Indian crew of Iranian oil tanker 'safe' in Gibraltar, says High Commission

The Gibraltar authorities have claimed that the vessel is loaded to capacity with crude oil en route to Syria, in breach of the European Union sanctions.

Published: 25th July 2019 08:51 PM  |   Last Updated: 25th July 2019 09:00 PM   |  A+A-

Tehran blames the US for arranging to have its ship seized in the wake of sanctions imposed against Iran with the aim of halting all its oil exports.

Image of an oil tanker used for representational purposes. ( Photo | AP )

By PTI

LONDON: The Indian crew members detained in connection with an investigation into an Iranian oil supertanker seized by Royal Gibraltar Police are "safe and well' and in contact with consular officials on the vessel, the Indian High Commission in London said on Thursday.

The arrested men, the Master, Chief Officer and two Second Mates, were aboard the Panama-flagged supertanker Grace 1 that was detained off Europa Point in Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory on the Spanish coast, earlier this month.

The Gibraltar authorities have claimed that the vessel is loaded to capacity with crude oil en route to Syria, in breach of the European Union (EU) sanctions and confirmed that the next hearing in the case is scheduled for August 15.

"Three consular officials had meetings with the crew on the high seas on Wednesday. They are safe and well and remain in contact with their families,” the Indian High Commission said in a statement in London on Thursday.

"Further meetings are planned this week with Gibraltar officials. All help will be extended to the Indian nationals,” the statement noted.

According to reports from India, the total number of Indians aboard the vessel are 24.

Royal Gibraltar Police (RGP) had earlier said that the senior crew members who were arrested and questioned had been bailed as the investigating remained ongoing.

The Gibraltar government confirmed that on an application by the Attorney General, the Supreme Court has extended the period of detention of the vessel, Grace 1, for a further 30 days and has set a new hearing for 15 August 2019. 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.

A Gibraltar government statement reads: "The detention of the vessel relates to the suspected destination of the cargo, the Banyas refinery in Syria, which is owned by a company, the Banyas Oil Refinery Company. This company is the subject of European Union sanctions under EU Regulation 36/2012, which is directly applicable in Gibraltar,"

"The investigations of the Royal Gibraltar Police continue and the vessel remains detained under an Order of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar," it said.

It said that after receiving the results of comprehensive laboratory testing, it had been confirmed that "the Very Large Crude Carrier, the Grace 1 'is loaded to capacity with crude oil'.

"We look forward to continuing to work constructively and positively with officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran to facilitate the release of the Grace 1 pursuant to the satisfaction of all legal requirements," the semi-autonomous British Overseas Territory's Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, told the local Parliament.

Iran had called for the UK to release its oil tanker and warned Britain not to get involved in "this dangerous game", which eventually led to Iran's seizure of a British-flagged tanker in the Gulf last week.

Tehran blames the US for arranging to have its ship seized in the wake of sanctions imposed against Iran 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.

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