Did The Government of Gibraltar Have The Right To Seize The Grace 1?
In the early hours of the morning on the 4th July the Iranian Supertanker (VLCC) ‘Grace 1’ was seized by the port authority in Gibraltar who were assisted by Gibraltar police and the Royal Marines. Many questions have been raised about the whether this was legal - this article aims to clear up those suggestions.
The Grace 1 was seized by Gibraltan authorities for a breach of EU sanctions on Syria after the ship had passed into EU waters while transiting the strait of Gibraltar.
The first question people had was why was the tanker that was heading from Iran to Syria going around the Horn of Africa? The answer is that the Grace 1 is too heavy to pass through the Suez Canal, therefore the only way to get to Syria is around Africa and through the Straits of Gibraltar.
Many people have speculated as to why the ship was sanctioned and what sanctions it was violating. People have claimed it was due to the Iranian oil onboard or that it was because the EU was imposing US sanctions and stopping Iran supplying oil to Syria. None of these theories are correct.
The real reason the Grace 1 was seized was due to its destination. The Baniyas refinery on the Syrian Coast. The Baniyas refinery is subject to EU sanctions.
Baniyas refinery is a subsidiary of the General Corporation for Refining and Distribution of Petroleum Products (GCRDPP) which is a section of the Syrian Ministry of Petroleum, this link to the Syrian Government is what got the refinery added to the sanctions list. The EU says that the facility provides financial support to the Syrian Government which is subject to EU sanctions. The Baniyas refinery has been sanctioned by the EU since the 23rd July 2014.
Under EU sanctions, no funds or economic resources can be provided to entities or persons on the list. Economic resources are according to the EU “assets of any kind that can be used to obtain funds, goods or services” which will include the Crude oil onboard the Grace 1.
The Gibraltar authorities likely seized the Grace 1 in order to ‘Freeze economic resources’ to prevent their use by the Baniyas refinery.
Article 35 below states how these sanctions can be applied. As they can be applied within the territory of the Union, when the Grace 1 entered EU waters it was subject to EU sanctions.
The continued detention however is due to the criminal enquiry by the Gibraltar Customs and the Gibraltar Police as the tanker and therefore crew have committed the crime of ‘intent to provide economic resources to a sanctioned entity” 4 members of crew from the Grace 1 were arrested by the Gibraltar police and have since been released on bail. The Grace 1 will remain seized by UK authorities in Gibraltar until this investigation is concluded or Iranian authorities can prove the Grace 1s destination isn’t the Baniyas refinery.