Alwaght- The US has threatened to impose a visa ban on the crew of an Iranian supertanker detained in Gibraltar after the Supreme Court in the British territory ruled Thursday that Grace 1 seized for the past six weeks is free to sail, despite a last-minute bid by Washington to seize the vessel.
“Crew members of vessels assisting the IRGC (Islamic Revolution Guards Corps) by transporting oil from Iran may be ineligible for visas or admission to the United States under the terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds,” US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
“In the case of the M/T Grace 1, we will continue to act consistent with our existing policies concerning those who provide material support to the IRGC,” he added.
The statement came shortly after the Gibraltar government, which had unlawfully seized the tanker and its cargo of 2.1 million barrels of oil in the Strait of Gibraltar last month, announced the vessel's release on Thursday.
Deputy head of Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization Jalil Eslami subsequently said that the vessel was preparing to leave Gibraltar amid US pressure.
“Based on the owner's request, the oil tanker Grace 1 will depart for the Mediterranean after being reflagged under the Iranian flag and renamed Adrian Darya after preparing for the journey,” he said.
The tanker's Thursday release was anticipated following related remarks from Iranian and Gibraltar authorities earlier this week.
Earlier on Thursday, however, Washington had sent an appeal to Gibraltar seeking to "seize the Grace 1" based on "a number of allegations" in a bid to block the anticipated move.
The Supreme Court of Gibraltar, however, pushed forward with the vessel's release.
"There are no longer reasonable grounds to suspect that the detention of the vessel is required," chief justice of Gibraltar's Supreme Court Anthony Dudley announced.
Speaking to BBC Radio, Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo said that the ship "is able to leave as soon as she organizes the logistics necessary in order to sail a ship of that size wherever it's going next."
Speaking about the US appeal, however, Picardo added that Washington's last-minute legal bid could yet end up back in court.
Washington's failed ‘maritime piracy’
Gibraltar, which is under British rule, claimed to have apprehended the tanker on alleged suspicion that the vessel was carrying Iranian oil to Syria in violation of the European Union’s unilateral sanctions on the war-torn country.
Consisting of an irregular imposition of EU regulations on a non-EU member state, the measure was vehemently condemned by Tehran as being an act of “maritime piracy" done at the request of Washington.
Initial reports from Gibraltar authorities, along with later statements from Spain's Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, further confirmed that the tanker's seizure had been originally ordered by Washington.
The tanker seizure took place as the US had pledged to reduce Iran’s oil exports to “zero” as part of sanctions that it reinstated after leaving a multilateral 2015 nuclear deal with Iran last year.
Tensions have since further escalated between the two countries, with the US military announcing the deployment of additional military forces in the region in early May, citing alleged “threats” from Iran.
Several oil tankers have also been targeted near the Persian Gulf region in the past months, with Washington and its ally Saudi Arabia quickly blaming Iran for the attacks.
Tehran has rejected any involvement, saying the incidents appear to be false flags meant to frame the Islamic Republic.
Washington also further heightened its rhetoric against Tehran after Iran apprehended the 30,000-tonne UK-flagged Stena Impero tanker last month for violating international maritime rules while passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
Washington has since called on its allies to assist it in forming a naval collation in the Persian Gulf. The appeal has so far been coldly received by its allies.
Tehran has time and again said that it does not seek military confrontation with the US, yet stands ready to defend its interests in the region against any foreign intervention.