British Royal Marines in boats and helicopters Thursday seized a supertanker suspected of carrying Iranian oil to Syria near the Mediterranean peninsula of Gibraltar.
The delivery appeared to violate European Union and U.S. sanctions on oil deliveries to the Iran-allied Syrian government.
“We have detained the vessel and its cargo,” said Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s chief minister. “This action arose from information giving the Gibraltar government reasonable grounds to believe that the vessel, Grace 1, was acting in breach of European Union sanctions against Syria.”
A British Defense Ministry spokeswoman said 30 British marines boarded the ship from boats and a helicopter after a request by Gibraltar, which lies along the coast of Spain at the mouth of the Mediterranean.
The Grace 1, able to ship 2 million barrels of crude oil, was intercepted by detachments of Royal Marines and Gibraltarian police. The ship is now anchored near Gibraltar, a British overseas territory on Spain’s southern tip that overlooks the strait between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
Iran responded by declaring the action illegal and summoning the British ambassador to the Foreign Ministry in Tehran to explain the ship’s arrest.
It is the first such detention of a ship under the terms of European sanctions targeting supplies to Syria. It is the first such detention of a ship under the terms of European sanctions targeting supplies to Syria.
Earlier in the day, Theresa May’s spokesman had offered London’s full support for Gibraltar’s actions.
“We welcome this firm action to enforce EU sanctions against the Syrian regime,” the prime minister’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters in London. “This sends a clear message that violation of the sanctions is unacceptable.”
Iran has regularly supplied Syria with crude oil since the country descended into civil war in 2011. Iran backs the government headed by President Bashar Al-Assad, which has been sanctioned for most of this decade due to its bloody crackdown on the country’s civilians.