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U.K. denies plan to free Iran oil tanker

Reuters

A Spanish Civil Guard boat sails past Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 as it sits anchored after being seized in July by British Royal Marines, in the Strait of Gibraltar, southern Spain, on Tuesday.

Reuters DUBAI/LONDON (Reuters) — The British territory of Gibraltar will not yet release an Iranian oil tanker seized by Royal Marines in the Mediterranean despite an Iranian report that it could do so on Tuesday, an official Gibraltar source said.

The commandeering of the Grace 1 on July 4 exacerbated frictions between Tehran and the West and led to retaliatory moves in Gulf waterways used to ship oil.

Britain accused the vessel of violating European sanctions by taking oil to Syria, a charge Tehran denies.

The deputy head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization, Jalil Eslami, said Tuesday that Britain was thinking of freeing the Grace 1 following an exchange of documents.

“The vessel was seized based on false allegations,” Eslami said in comments reported by state news agency IRNA. “We hope the release will take place soon.”

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency, quoting unidentified Gibraltar authorities, said the tanker would be freed by Tuesday evening.

However, a senior source in the government of the British overseas territory denied that would happen on Tuesday.

Although Grace 1 was seized by British forces, Britain said Tuesday that investigations into the tanker were a matter for Gibraltar. The territory has denied Iran’s claim that the action was taken on the orders of Tehran’s longtime foe Washington.

“As this is an ongoing investigation, we are unable to comment further,” a British Foreign Office spokesman said.

Tehran has denied the vessel was doing anything improper and in retaliation Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps troops seized the British-flagged Stena Impero tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19 for alleged marine violations.

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