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Legal bid to block release of Iranian tanker

An Israeli non-governmental organisation is seeking to enforce a US terrorism judgment against the government of Iran through a UK injunction to seize very large crude carrier Grace 1 and its cargo

‘It is a judgment against the government of Iran, and it would appear that the government of Iran own at least the cargo’ — Jonathan Goldberg QC

AN ISRAELI non-governmental organisation is seeking an injunction to prevent the return of the Iranian oil tanker seized off Gibraltar.

The very large crude carrier Grace 1 was arrested on July 4 by Royal Marines acting with the Gibraltar government to enforce European Union sanctions on Syria, where it was believed the cargo of crude oil was being transported.

A court order allows for the vessel to be detained until July 19. Police in Gibraltar have formally arrested four senior crew members, including the captain, in connection with the investigation.  

Shurat HaDin, a group that pursues compensation on behalf of Israeli victims of terrorism, is seeking to enforce existing US judgments against the government of Iran, which it believes to be the beneficial owner of both the vessel and its consignment of crude.

Shipping lawyers have said the US may have a case for the forfeiture of Grace 1, based on the precedent provided by in the case of Wise Honest, a North Korean bulk carrier which was initially detained by the Indonesian authorities in May 2018 on straightforward port state control grounds, but was subsequently handed over to the US.

Shurat HaDin has retained London barrister Jonathan Goldberg QC and a petition is expected to be filed in the Supreme Court of Gibraltar.

Mr Goldberg told Lloyd’s List that the grounds for the action were not any claim against the vessel or its owners, but the satisfaction of several US judgments in favour of victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism.

“It is a judgment against the government of Iran, and it would appear that the government of Iran own at least the cargo,” he said.

In particular, the claimants are leading off with a case involving a vehicle bombing in Jerusalem in 2014 in which a three-month old girl was killed. Tha attack was said to have been carried out by Hamas.

The US government found against the Iranian government on the matter, given the widespread contention that Tehran is a Hamas sponsor.

“This has all been decided and litigated,” Mr Goldberg said. “We are enforcing American judgments that have been obtained against the Iranian government for supporting Hamas.”

No action is currently contemplated against other Iranian vessels, he added.

The UK government has said it is prepared to facilitate the release of Grace 1 if Tehran can guarantee the vessel and its cargo will not head to Syria.

British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt told his Iranian counterpart at the weekend that the vessel’s detention “related to the destination of the vessel, and not to its origin”.

Iran’s supreme leader has threatened the UK with retaliation over the seizure.

“The vicious British government committed piracy and attacked our ship; they commit crimes and legalize it,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted on Tuesday. “The Islamic Republic and the believing members of the establishment will not leave such vicious acts without a response.”

The detention of the Grace 1 resulted in an encounter between the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose and Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Strait of Hormuz after the Iranians tried to intercept a British tanker in retaliation.

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