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UK seizes ‘Syria-bound oil tanker’ in Gibraltar on suspicion of violating EU bans

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The Rock of Gibraltar, historically claimed by Spain, is seen from El Saladillo beach in Estepona, southern Spain, January 14, 2019. (Photo by Reuters)

The British overseas territory Gibraltar says it has seized a supertanker on suspicion of carrying crude oil to Syria in violation of European Union (EU) sanctions against the Arab country.

In a statement released on Thursday, Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the territory’s police and customs agencies, aided by a detachment of British Royal Marines, had seized the Grace 1 vessel.

Gibraltar, he added, had reasonable grounds to believe that the tanker was carrying its crude oil shipment to the Banyas refinery in Syria.

“That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria,” Picardo said. “With my consent, our port and law enforcement agencies sought the assistance of the Royal Marines in carrying out this operation.”

A British Foreign Office spokesman welcomed what he called a “firm action by the Gibraltarian authorities, acting to enforce the EU Syria Sanctions regime,” which has been in place against the Arab country since 2011.

UK media claimed Refinitiv Eikon mapping indicates the ship had loaded “Iranian oil” on April 17 and sailed a longer route around the southern tip of Africa instead of via Egypt’s Suez Canal.

Syrian and Iranian officials have not yet commented on the report.

Spain: Tanker detained by on U.S. request to Britain

Later in the day, acting Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said Gibraltar detained the supertanker Grace 1 after a request by the United States to Britain.

Borrell was quoted by Reuters as saying that Spain was looking into the seizure of the ship and how it may affect Spanish sovereignty as it appears to have happened in Spanish waters.

Spain does not recognize the waters around Gibraltar as British.

Britain's Foreign Office did not respond to a request for comment.

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