LONDON/GIBRALTAR - Gibraltar decided on Thursday to free the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1, detained off the British overseas territory six weeks ago by Royal Marines, paving the way for a possible swap for a British-flagged tanker seized by Iran in the Gulf.
The two tankers have become pawns in the standoff between Iran and the West, their fate tangled up in the diplomatic differences between the EU’s big powers and the United States.
The Grace 1 was seized by commandos in darkness off peninsula on July 4.
Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo decided to lift the detention order after formal written assurances from Tehran that the ship will not discharge its 2.1 million barrels of oil in Syria, but added that the ship had not yet been released.
It was not immediately clear when the Grace 1 would sail as the United States made a late request to seize the vessel.
“That is a matter for our independent Mutual Legal Assistance authorities, who will make an objective, legal determination of that request for separate proceedings,” Picardo said.
While both Britain and Iran deny planning to swap the vessels, there has been a widespread expectation that the British-flagged ship will not be freed until the Iranian tanker is released.
Iran’s ambassador to London, Hamid Baeidinejad, said the United States was “desperately” trying to block the release but faced a “miserable defeat”.
He tweeted that the tanker would be leaving Gibraltar soon.