British Royal Marines seized an oil tanker in Gibraltar on Thursday accused of bringing oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions, a dramatic step that could escalate confrontation between the West and Iran.
The Grace 1tanker was impounded in the British territory at the mouth of the MediterraneanSea after sailing around Africa from Middle East.
Shippingdata reviewed by Reuters suggests it had been loaded with Iranian oil off thecoast of Iran, although its documents say the oil is from neighbouring Iraq.
Theauthorities in Gibraltar made no reference to the source of the oil when theyseized it under the authority of European sanctions against Syria that havebeen in place for years.
But thelikelihood that the cargo was Iranian drew a link between the incident and anew U.S. effort to halt all global sales of Iranian crude, which Tehran hasdescribed as an illegal "economic war" against it.
Europeancountries have tried stay neutral in that confrontation, which saw the UnitedStates call off air strikes against Iran just minutes before impact last month,and Tehran amass stocks of enriched uranium banned under a 2015 nuclear deal.
In astatement, the Gibraltar government said it had reasonable grounds to believethat the Grace 1 was carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Baniyas refineryin Syria.
"Thatrefinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Unionsanctions against Syria," Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said. "Withmy consent, our port and law enforcement agencies sought the assistance of theRoyal Marines in carrying out this operation."