Two months ago, Britain detained an oil tanker in Gibraltar that was suspected of violating European Union sanctions. The U.S. says the Panamanian-flagged ship, a super oil tanker with around $100 million worth of crude on board, was in fact owned by Iran and aiding the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp, which was officially designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. in April. The ship has now been released and is bound for Greece, or at least that's what Iran claims.
The ship was detained after America notified British authorities that the ship was flying under a proxy flag and was in reality owned by Iran and, according to the U.S., involved in "illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)," as reported by CNN. The US government says that the oil, which was designated for delivery at the Syrian port of Baniyas, would be used to aid dictator Bashar al-Assad in his civil war. Such an action would be a direct violation of E.U. sanction.
At the behest of the American government, the local Royal Gibraltar Police detained the ship on July 4. Iran claimed this action was an act of modern-day piracy. In retaliation, they attempted a reprisal attack on a British ship in the Gulf, but the Royal Navy was able to intervene and force the Iranians to disengage. The Iranians would attempt a similar action against another British tanker, which would prove successful.
For the next two months, Iran pressured Gibraltar’s court system to release their oil tanker. Britain eventually relented, releasing it on August 15 after the Iranian government promised the oil would never make it to Syria.
Prior to the ship setting sail, the U.S. State Department issued a warrant for the detainment of the vessel based on the ship’s connection to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp.
The British court ignored the warrant because neither the United Kingdom nor the European Union classify the group as a terrorist organization.
The tanker left port on Aug. 18. Before setting sail, the ship changed its name and ran up an Iranian flag.
The ship claims to be heading to Greece. However, Reuters recently reported that Greece has yet to receive any notice that the oil tanker plans on arriving there. This suggests that the ship still intends to carry out its original assignment.
If they do intend to dispose of their cargo in Syria, Greece would be the most logical place to claim to be unloading the oil, allowing them to avoid attracting suspicion until they are within a few miles of Syrian waters and before any navy could possibly respond. Once they are within Syria’s territorial waters, any intervention becomes highly unlikely.
Their intent will become apparent as their course develops. If the ship passes by the Ionian Sea, then Greece would likely be their destination, but if the oil tanker’s course circumvents Crete, then it is likely headed toward Syria.
Editor's note: This article has been revised to clarify that the U.S. has accused the tanker of assisting the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp, rather than being controlled by it.