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U.S. Wants Custody Of Iranian Tanker, Gibraltar Government Says

Aug 15, 2019
Originally published on August 15, 2019 9:39 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The United States is asking to seize an Iranian tanker that is now in the custody of Great Britain. That's according to officials in Gibraltar - that is Britain's territory on the east coast of Spain. This tanker was seized by British Royal Marines last month and is being held in the port of Gibraltar. NPR's Joanna Kakissis has been following this developing story from Istanbul.

Hi, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So what exactly is the U.S. role here? And why are they asking to take possession of this vessel?

KAKISSIS: So we don't know why they're asking to take possession of the Iranian vessel. But we do know that they are. They have applied to seize it. The government of Gibraltar, which is a British overseas territory in the Mediterranean, they say they want the U.S. - they say the U.S. wants the same - wants to seize the tanker based on a number of allegations. They won't say exactly what those allegations are. They won't tell me. But the request has been made. Gibraltar's Supreme Court is considering that request, and we should know more in the next few hours.

GREENE: And then we'll try and understand what the United States is doing and what role this request might play in the whole U.S.-Iran relationship that we've obviously been been following.

Can you take things back for us and just tell us more about this particular Iranian tanker? How did it get into British custody to begin with?

KAKISSIS: So sure. It was seized on July 4 off Gibraltar. And It was - it's called the Grace 1. It has - the British say that it had oil on that was bound for Syria, which is a violation of sanctions. And it's - they've kept it off the coast of Gibraltar ever since as a way to say, look; this is just not acceptable.

What it did do, though, is it prompted a retaliatory move by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz a bit later that - last month on July 19, where the Iranians - the Iranian Revolutionary Guard seized a British-flagged commercial tanker called the Stena Impero and said it was violating maritime safety rules. And - but you know, Iranian officials later said, well, this is retaliatory because you - what you did in the Strait of Hormuz, we won't accept it.

GREENE: And just remind us about the tanker we're talking about in the port of Gibraltar now. I mean, the United States is trying to get control of it. It's still in British custody. But what's its status at this point?

KAKISSIS: Yes, it's still in British custody. And from what Gibraltar has been saying in the last couple of days is they have been trying to de-escalate tensions - this Gibraltar and Great Britain, obviously, because Gibraltar is a British territory. They've been trying to de-escalate tensions with Iran. And so they've been in talks trying to figure out how to release this tanker. And so at the moment, the ship is off the coast of Gibraltar, where it is. And we were expecting news in the next few days of perhaps its release or some news along those lines. But now with the United States making this request, it's thrown a bit of a snafu in that.

GREENE: The United States seeming to get involved just at a moment where this might have been de-escalating. OK. We'll obviously be following this as we learn more from that court. Again - the United States asking, requesting to take custody of an Iranian tanker that is currently in British custody. And that vessel is in the port of Gibraltar as we speak. NPR's Joanna Kakissis joining us from Istanbul. Joanna, thank you.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In a previous version of this report, we incorrectly said the crew of the Iranian oil tanker had yet to be released. In fact, the crew was released on Thursday.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.