Worldwide there are approximately 3,000 merchant ports and the work of the Harbour Master can vary widely from country to country and from port to port even within the same country.
News broke in the UK early on 4 July that a tanker had been arrested in Gibraltar waters. This was the crude oil tanker Grace 1, (IMO No 9116412) Panama-flag, believed to be managed by iships Management Pte Ltd of Singapore. (Previous names found to have been: Meridian Lion (2013) and Overseas Meridian (2011) both on the Marshall Islands’ Register.
This 330 metres loa, 300,579 dwt crude oil tanker, built in 1997 by Hyundai Heavy Industries of Ulsan, ROK, was understood to have been carrying a cargo of crude from Iran to a Syrian refinery in contravention of EU sanctions. The vessels was boarded by Royal Marines with the support of the Royal Gibraltar Police and HM Customs.
Grace 1 had sailed the long way around Africa, past the Cape from the Middle East to enter the Mediterranean. This demonstrates the lengths the regime in Iran will take to avoid detection especially as transit of the Suez Canal would have been extensively monitored and the vessel’s intentions made likely.
According to a report in The Gibraltar Chronicle the 28-man crew of Grace 1 was made up of Indians, Pakistanis and Ukrainians and they were being treated as witnesses not criminal suspects.
Following the vessel’s arrest the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, The Hon Fabian R Picardo made a statement on 5 July which we are privileged to publish here:
‘In the early hours of this morning, Gibraltar Port and Law Enforcement agencies, assisted by a detachment of Royal Marines, boarded a super tanker carrying crude oil to Syria.
‘We have detained the vessel and its cargo.
This action arose from information giving the Gibraltar Government reasonable grounds to believe that the vessel, the Grace 1, was acting in breach of European Union sanctions against Syria.
‘In fact, we have reason to believe that the Grace 1 was carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Banyas Refinery in Syria.
‘That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria.
‘Yesterday (4 July) we published Regulations and a Notice to enforce those sanctions against this vessel and its cargo.
‘I also gave a Direction requiring the Captain of the Port, assisted by the Royal Gibraltar Police and Her Majesty’s Customs to take control of the Grace 1.
‘With my consent, our Port and Law Enforcement agencies sought the assistance of the Royal Marines in carrying out this operation.
‘As the sanctions being enforced are established by the EU, I have written this morning to the Presidents of the European Commission and Council, setting out the details of the sanctions which we have enforced.
‘I want to thank the brave men and women of the Royal Marines, the Royal Gibraltar Police, Her Majesty’s Customs Gibraltar and the Gibraltar Port Authority, for their work in securing the detention of this vessel and its cargo.
Be assured that Gibraltar remains safe, secure and committed to the international, rules-based, legal order.’
The Minister’s video statement is available here: https://www.gibraltar.gov.gi/press-releases/detention-of-super-tanker-the-grace-1-5062019-5095
Police and Customs
It was reported that in total about 60 officers worked together on the operation. The Royal Gibraltar Police and HM Customs have had approximately 50 officers on board conducting various roles. Currently the vessel is at anchor in Gibraltar waters.
According to a statement from the Gibraltar Government on 5 July owner(s) of the vessel are not clear and it is expected that this will unfold during the course of the investigation.
Extension of Detention
On 5 July the Attorney General of HM Government of Gibraltar obtained an Order from the Supreme Court of Gibraltar extending the period of detention of the Grace 1 by 14 days.
Under the Regulations made pursuant to the Gibraltar Sanctions Act, the dynamic detention of the vessel allowed the authorities to stop the ship for 72 hours. Continuing the period of detention beyond that required an Order of the Gibraltar Supreme Court upon an application from HM’s Attorney General for Gibraltar.
The Supreme Court granted the Order after a hearing In Private and issued this order on the basis that there are reasonable grounds to consider that the detention of Grace 1 is required for the purposes of compliance with the EU Regulation 36/2012 on sanctions on Syria.
Comment on Detention
In relation to its actions regarding Grace 1, HM Government of Gibraltar has confirm that all its decisions were taken as a direct result only of it having reasonable grounds to believe that the vessel was acting in breach of established EU sanctions against Syria.
The Gibraltar Government in a statement emphasised that there had been no political request at any time from any Government that the Gibraltar Government should act or not act, on one basis or another.
Comment on the cargo
HM Government of Gibraltar confirmed on 8 July at 1703 BST that after having received the results of comprehensive laboratory testing, that the Very Large Crude Carrier, Grace 1, which was detained in the early hours of Thursday morning (4 July), is loaded to capacity with crude oil.
The results of these tests conclusively prove and confirm the information disseminated last week (week commencing 30 June) by the Gibraltar Government and contradict the statements of some commentators from outside the jurisdiction who had speculated that the cargo on the vessel was not crude.
Grace 1 was detained last week in Gibraltar when it freely navigated into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW) to a point two miles off the Eastside of Gibraltar, having previously exited the international waters of the Straits of Gibraltar, on a pre-arranged call for provisions and spare parts.
Grace 1’s position well inside BGTW when boarded can clearly be seen on the attached screenshot. The ship remains detained in that area.
The detention of the vessel relates to the suspected destination of the cargo, the Banyas refinery in Syria, which is owned by a company, the Banyas Oil Refinery Company. This company is the subject of European Union sanctions under EU Regulation 36/2012, which is directly applicable in Gibraltar.
The investigations of the Royal Gibraltar Police continue and the vessel remains detained under an Order of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar.
In the Med
The story continues to evolve more than a week after the ship was embargoed in Gibraltar on suspicion of violating EU sanctions against Syria, where the UK believed it was heading with two million barrels of crude oil. Her Master and Chief Officer were arrested on 4 July and the following day two other officers were taken into custody. It is understood from The Gibraltar Chronicle that all have now been bailed and released with conditions.
Early on the afternoon of 13 July Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, the Hon Fabian Picardo, spoke with the Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt, about the political issues surrounding the detention of the Grace 1 last week.
Mr Picardo said in a statement issued from Gibraltar on 13 July at 1857 GMT: ‘I was pleased to discuss with the Foreign Secretary the political issues surrounding our initial detention of the Grace 1, the investigation that is ongoing and the extended period of detention presently ordered by the Gibraltar Supreme Court.
‘Mr Hunt called me ahead of speaking with the Foreign Minister of Iran, Mr Javad Zarif. I therefore asked the Foreign Secretary to clarify to the Iranian authorities on my behalf that all the decisions made by Gibraltar in respect of the detention of the Grace 1 were made exclusively with a view to the Syrian destination of the vessel, the Baniyas oil refinery which is subject to EU sanctions, and without any regard to the origin of its cargo.
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