Monday 21 October 2019

Explainer: Why Britain are sending second warship to the Gulf... and how tensions with Iran are quickly rising

  • Gibraltar says it took decision to detain Iranian tanker
  • Discussions between Britain and the United States on building up their military presence in the Gulf are ongoing - May
  • Iran cleric Sedighi says Britain will be "slapped in the face" soon for "daring" to capture an Iranian oil tanker
A British soldier looks on during an operation involving the oil supertanker Grace 1, that's on suspicion of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria, in waters off the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, historically claimed by Spain, July 4, 2019. UK Ministry of Defence/Handout via REUTERS
A British soldier looks on during an operation involving the oil supertanker Grace 1, that's on suspicion of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria, in waters off the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, historically claimed by Spain, July 4, 2019. UK Ministry of Defence/Handout via REUTERS

Costas Pitas

Britain is sending a second warship to the Gulf amid tensions with Iran, Sky News is reporting.

What happened?

Iranian tanker Grace 1 was seized by British Royal Marines off the coast of Gibraltar on suspicion of violating sanctions against Syria last weekend.

Iran has demanded that Britain release the ship and denies that it was taking oil to Syria in violation of sanctions. The affair has led to an increase in tension in the Gulf, with Britain saying on Thursday that it fended off Iranian ships that tried to block a British tanker.

Who made the decision to seize the tanker?

Gibraltar took the decision to seize an Iranian tanker last week solely because the ship was in breach of European Union sanctions and not on the request of any other country, the British territory's chief minister said on Friday.

"The decisions of Her Majesty's government of Gibraltar were taken totally independently, based on breaches of existing law and not at all based on extraneous political considerations," Fabian Picardo told Gibraltar's parliament.

"These important decisions about breaches of our laws were not decisions taken at the political behest or instruction of any other state or third party."

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A British soldier looks on during an operation involving the oil supertanker Grace 1, that's on suspicion of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria, in waters off the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, historically claimed by Spain, July 4, 2019. UK Ministry of Defence/Handout via REUTERS

So, who do Iran blame?

Tehran blames the United States for arranging to have its ship seized. Washington has imposed sanctions against Iran with the aim of halting all Iranian oil exports. European countries do not have sanctions against Iran, but have had them in place against Iran's ally Syria since 2011.

grace001.jpg
A British soldiers are seen during an operation involving the oil supertanker Grace 1, that's on suspicion of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria, in waters off the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, historically claimed by Spain, July 4, 2019. UK Ministry of Defence/Handout

What's happening now in Gibraltar?

Police in Gibraltar said on Thursday they had arrested the captain and chief officer of the supertanker and seized documents and electronic devices. Picardo said it was carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil.

"All relevant decisions in respect of this matter were taken only as a direct result of the government of Gibraltar having reasonable grounds to believe the vessel was acting in breach of established EU sanctions against Syria," Picardo said.

"We will not allow Gibraltar to be used or knowingly or unknowingly complicit in the breach of EU or other international sanctions."

He said the provenance and origin of the cargo had not been relevant to the actions, which he also said could be challenged in the courts.

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Oil supertanker Grace 1, that's on suspicion of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria, is seen in waters of the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, historically claimed by Spain, July 4, 2019. UK Ministry of Defence/Handout via REUTERS

What next?

Discussions between Britain and the United States on building up their military presence in the Gulf are ongoing, Prime Minister Theresa May's spokeswoman said on Friday amid tensions with Iran.

Britain is now concerned that the British Heritage, operated by oil company BP, had been approached in the strait between Iran and the Arabian peninsula.

"We are talking to the US about building on our presence in the face of recent threats to shipping in the area," May's spokeswoman said on Friday. 

More emotionally, Iran cleric Sedighi says Britain will be "slapped in the face" soon for "daring" to capture an Iranian oil tanker.

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Map taken from www.marinetraffic.com, showing the route of the oil tanker British Heritage through the Straits of Hormuz. (Photo: www.marinetraffic.com/PA Wire)

Reuters

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