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2 more Indian nationals arrested in Iranian oil tanker probe in Gibraltar

PTI | Gibraltar | Updated: 12-07-2019 21:35 IST | Created: 12-07-2019 21:35 IST
2 more Indian nationals arrested in Iranian oil tanker probe in Gibraltar

Four Indian nationals are in detention in Gibraltar in connection with an ongoing investigation into an Iranian oil supertanker seized last week for breaching the EU sanctions against Syria, as Royal Gibraltar Police arrested two more Indian sailors on Friday. The latest arrests, of the second mates aboard the vessel named Grace I, follow the arrest of the captain and chief officer of the ship on Thursday on suspicion of breaching the European Union (EU) sanctions against Syria.

"All four men are Indian nationals and they have been granted full legal assistance, telephone contact with their families and access to their consular authorities," Royal Gibraltar Police said in a statement. "The arrest of the two officers, who are now held in custody at the RGP headquarters in New Mole House assisting police with their inquiries, follows the detention yesterday [Thursday] of the vessel’s captain and chief officer," the statement said.

It is also in connection with the same investigation of the suspected export of crude oil to the Banyas refinery in Syria, in contravention of an EU ban against the Middle Eastern country, it said. The Indian High Commission in London said that it is in contact with the authorities and "consular access has been sought and all assistance will be provided to the Indian citizens".

The arrested men were aboard the Panama flagged supertanker Grace I that was detained off Europa Point, said the police force in Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory on the Spanish coast. The Gibraltar port and law enforcement agencies had detained the supertanker and its cargo on July 4 during an operation conducted by the RGP, Customs and Port Authority with the support of British Royal Marines.

The master and chief officer of the ship were held in relation to breaches of the European Union Regulations 36/2012, concerning restrictive measures in view of the situation in Syria, the local police said. "The Grace I continues detained under the provisions of the Sanctions Regulations 2019 which are born out of the Sanctions Act 2019,” a police statement said.

Iran blames the US for arranging to have its ship seized in the wake of sanctions imposed against Tehran with the aim of halting all its oil exports. European countries do not have sanctions against Iran but have had them in place against Iran's ally Syria since 2011. Iran has reiterated calls for the UK to release its oil tanker and warned Britain not to get involved in "this dangerous game".

"This is a dangerous game and we advise them not get involved in this game under America's influence," said Iran’s Foreign ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi. "We ask them again to release the tanker immediately, which will be in all countries' interest," he said.

Iran has previously claimed the tanker was not bound for Syria and threatened to seize a British oil tanker in retaliation, if its tanker was not released. Gibraltar has insisted its decision to detain the Iranian tanker was taken alone and not based on any political considerations.

The semi-autonomous British Overseas Territory's Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, told the Gibraltar Parliament: “The decisions of Her Majesty's Government of Gibraltar were taken totally independently, based on breaches of existing law and not at all based on extraneous political considerations. "These important decisions about breaches of our laws were not decisions taken at the political behest or instruction of any other state or third party.”

He said the vessel contained 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil and was detained because there were "reasonable grounds" to believe it was in breach of EU sanctions. "We will not allow Gibraltar to be used or knowingly or unknowingly complicit in the breach of EU or other international sanctions," he added.

The entire affair has led to an increase in tension in the Gulf, with UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt calling for a "time for cool heads". Britain brought forward plans to send a second warship to the Gulf amid an escalation of the standoff between Iran and the UK over the Grace 1 oil tanker’s detention.

HMS Duncan, which is currently in the Mediterranean, is expected to join HMS Montrose in the region next week. It follows a face-off involving HMS Montrose, a British frigate shadowing a BP-owned tanker, and Iranian boats trying to impede the British oil tanker on Thursday. "As part of our long-standing presence in the Gulf, HMS Duncan is deploying to the region to ensure we maintain a continuous maritime security presence while HMS Montrose comes off task for pre-planned maintenance and crew changeover," a UK government spokesperson said.

"This will ensure that the UK, alongside international partners, can continue to support freedom of navigation for vessels transiting through this vital shipping lane," the spokesperson added.



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