Iran threatens British shipping in retaliation for tanker seizure

An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander warned on Friday to seize a British ship in retaliation for the capture of an Iranian supertanker in Gibraltar by Royal Marines.

A British Royal Navy patrol vessel guards the oil supertanker Grace 1, that’s on doubt of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria, as it sits anchored in waters of the British abroad territory of Gibraltar, historically claimed by Spain, July 4, 2019.

“If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities duty to seize a British oil tanker,” Mohsen Rezai said on Twitter.

The Gibraltar government said the crew on board the supertanker Grace 1 were being questioned as witnesses, not criminal suspects, in an effort to discover the nature of the cargo and its ultimate purpose.

British Royal Marines abseiled onto the ship off the shoreline of the British territory on Thursday and seized it. They landed a helicopter on the moving vessel in pitch darkness.

The move escalates a confrontation between Iran and the West just weeks after the United States called off air strikes minutes before impact, and draws Washington’s close ally into a crisis in which European powers had striven to appear neutral.

Tehran asked the British ambassador on Thursday to voice “its very strong objection to the illegal and unacceptable seizing” of its ship, a move that also rejected doubt about the ownership of the vessel.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said the crude oil cargo was from Iran. The ship’s paperwork had said the oil was from neighboring Iraq, but tracking data reviewed by Reuters suggested it had loaded at an Iranian port.

European countries have walked a careful line since last year when the United States ignored their pleas and pulled out of a pact between Iran and world powers that gave Tehran access to global trade in the account for curbs on its nuclear program.

Over the past two months, Washington has clearly hardened sanctions against Tehran with the intention of halting its oil exports altogether. The moves have largely driven Iran from mainstream businesses and forced it to find unique ways to sell crude.

The confrontation took on a military dimension in recent weeks, with Washington accusing Iran of attacking ships in the Gulf and Iran shooting down a U.S. drone. President Donald Trump ordered, then canceled, retaliatory strikes.

With nuclear diplomacy at the heart of the crisis, Iran announced this week it had amassed more fissile material than allowed under its deal and said it would purify uranium to a higher degree than permitted from July 7.

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