The US has issued a warrant to seize an Iranian supertanker in a bid to prevent it from leaving Gibraltar.
Iran’s Grace 1 tanker, which is carrying 2.1 million barrels of oil, has been detained in Gibraltar since 4 July amid speculation that it planned to transport its cargo to Syria.
Such a delivery to the war-torn nation would be in violation of sanctions imposed by the European Union.
The detention of the Grace 1 last month prompted Iran to retaliate by seizing the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which heightened already increased tensions in the region.
The eleventh-hour warrant issued by the US on Friday came a day after a Gibraltar judge – responding to Tehran’s insistence that the tanker’s cargo would not go to Syria – lifted the detention order.
Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo told Sky News on Friday that he was “satisfied” with written assurances from Tehran that the cargo would not go “to an EU-sanctioned entity”.
He said he had also held a “positive and constructive” meeting with Iranian officials in London to de-escalate tensions.
In its appeal, the US stipulates that it can seize the tanker, its oil cargo, and almost $1m (£823,000) on the grounds of terrorism and violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
It says the tanker has links to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the US deems a terrorist organisation.
Jessie Liu, the US attorney for the District of Columbia, said a “network of front companies” had “allegedly laundered millions of dollars in support of such shipments”.
“The scheme involves multiple parties affiliated with the IRGC and furthered by the deceptive voyages of the Grace 1,” she added.
The Pentagon has declined to comment on the matter. Iran and the UK have not yet publicly responded to news of the warrant.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department has highlighted that “a seizure warrant is merely an allegation”.
According to the Gibraltar Chronicle, an unnamed source said the Grace 1 is unlikely to leave Gibraltar before Sunday, despite currently being free to go.
It said the ship, which has since had its name erased and is no longer flying the Panama flag, is waiting for the arrival of new crew members and a captain.
Iran’s state television quoted the country’s head of its Ports and Maritime Organisation as saying the ship would depart only after being renamed the Adrian Darya and being given the Iranian flag.
The case marks the latest incident amid the fallout from the US pulling out of the landmark nuclear deal a year ago, which has seen the re-introduction of crippling economic sanctions on Iran, and led to remaining signatories searching to find ways to save the agreement.