LONDON/TEHRAN – Iran warned the U.S. against targeting a supertanker carrying the Middle East country’s oil as the vessel departed Gibraltar after being seized last month by U.K. forces and held in the British territory.
The tanker, detained by the British on suspicion of hauling oil to Syria in violation of European sanctions, set sail from Gibraltar after being released late last week and is signaling Greece as its next destination.
“The U.S. surely can’t seize the Iranian tanker and, if it does, it would pose a threat to international maritime security,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said. Iran warned the U.S. via “diplomatic channels,” including Switzerland, against interfering with the tanker, formerly known as Grace 1, in international waters, Mousavi said at a news conference in Tehran. Swiss diplomats serve as interlocutors between the U.S. and Iran.
The ship, renamed Adrian Darya-1, changed its intended destination on Monday to the Greek port of Kalamata from its previous indication of the Mediterranean Sea, according to vessel-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg and data from MarineTraffic.com.
Gibraltar on Sunday rejected an attempt by the U.S. to block the ship’s release. The territory’s Supreme Court last week separately released the tanker over U.S. objections.
It remains to be seen what will happen to the vessel now. The U.S. said it was gravely disappointed with Britain after Gibraltar’s release of the tanker, and it warned that ports, banks and anyone else who does business with the vessel or its crew might be subject to sanctions, according to two administration officials.
Kalamata is itself an unlikely final destination for the vessel. A port mainly serving pleasure craft like sailboats and cruise ships, Kalamata cannot handle vessels with drafts greater than 8 meters (26 feet), Gyannoula Nikolaous, the acting harbor master, said by phone. The tanker, laden with Iranian oil, has a maximum draft — a measurement of how low a vessel sits in the water when full — of about 22 meters.
The waters off Kalamata could be a possible location for ship-to-ship cargo transfers, according to two vessel brokers without specific information about the tanker’s plans. Tanker crews enter destinations into ship logs that get picked up by vessel-tracking satellites. The destinations can be altered multiple times on the same journey.
British forces seized the vessel on July 4 on suspicion it was hauling Iranian crude to Syria. Iran has maintained that the detention was unlawful. The incident is one of several in recent months that have strained relations between Iran and the West, following the U.S. reinstatement of sanctions on the Persian Gulf state last year.
A new crew for the ship had been scheduled to arrive in Gibraltar on Sunday, Richard de la Rosa, managing director of the vessel’s shipping agent, Astralship, said. Iran previously said the ship would head to a port in the Mediterranean.
The vessel’s status was “underway using engine” with speed of 7 knots as of 10:30 a.m. on Monday in Dubai, according to ship-tracking data. The tanker has an estimated time of arrival at Kalamata of Aug. 25.