Iran warns of retaliation against British ships in Gulf of Oman
Iran has issued a warning to the British government that it would seize UK-registered and owned merchant vessels in the Gulf of Oman, after the UK government held an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar.
British Royal Marines boarded the ship off the coast of the British territory on Thursday and seized it over accusations it was breaking sanctions by taking oil to Syria.
The Gibraltar government said the crew on board the supertanker Grace 1 were being interviewed as witnesses, not criminal suspects, in an effort to establish the nature of the cargo and its ultimate destination.
Iran has promised the UK an eye for an eye in response.
“If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities’ duty to seize a British oil tanker,” Mohsen Rezai, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander, said on Twitter.
The move escalates a confrontation between Iran and the West just weeks after the United States called off air strikes on Iran minutes before impact, and draws Washington’s close ally into a crisis in which European powers had striven to appear neutral.
The Grace 1 was impounded in the British territory on the southern tip of Spain after sailing the long way around Africa from the Middle East to the mouth of the Mediterranean, a route that demonstrates the unusual steps Iran appears to be taking to try to keep some exports flowing.
The Gibraltar spokesman said the 28-member crew, who have remained on board the supertanker, were mainly Indians with some Pakistanis and Ukrainians. Police and customs officials remained on board the vessel to carry out their investigation, but the Royal Marines were no longer present.
While the European Union has not followed the United States in imposing broad sanctions against Iran, it has had measures in place since 2011 that prohibit sales of oil to Syria.
A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said, “We welcome international partners’ resolve in upholding and enforcing these sanctions.”