Iran claims UK may release captured Grace 1 oil tanker soon, suggesting Britain is close to a U-turn on the ship swap idea it previously rejected

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Iranian authorities say that the UK might free the Tehran-flagged tanker it captured in July, suggesting that Britain could be coming around to the idea of an oil tanker swap that it previously rejected.

Jalil Eslami, the deputy head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization, said on Tuesday that Britain “is interested” in releasing the Grace 1 tanker.

“Britain is interested in releasing Iran’s oil tanker Grace 1 … following the exchange of some documents, we hope the release will take place soon,” IRNA news agency cited Eslami as saying, according to Reuters.

Eslami did not make clear what those documents are.

Iran’s state-run Fars news agency on Tuesday tweeted a photo of the Grace 1 alongside the caption: “According to government consultations, we expect to continue operating in the international waters with the Iranian flag in the very near future,” adding that “an informal exchange to resolve the issue” was underway.

The UK Foreign Office has not yet responded to Business Insider’s request for comment on the potential release of the Grace 1.

The Grace 1 off Gibraltar on July 4, 2019, the day of its seizure.
Reuters

The Royal Marines seized the Grace 1 off the British territory of Gibraltar on July 4 after the tanker was accused of transporting oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

On July 19, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard seized the British-flagged Stena Impero oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in an apparent retaliation against the Grace 1’s seizure.

Neither vessel has been released yet. Both sides have accused each other of illegally seizing the other’s tanker.

Read more: Iran was able to capture a British oil tanker because it only gave the Royal Navy 1 hour’s notice to escort it, rather than 24, former UK Defence Secretary says

Iran’s state-run IRIB news agency aired footage on July 22, 2019, purporting to show crew members of Stena Impero, the British oil tanker that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, in a conference room on board the ship.
IRIB News Agency via AP

‘Easy peasy’ tanker swap?

The possibility of the UK releasing the Grace 1 also suggests that that Britain could be coming around to the idea of swapping tankers with Iran.

This is an idea that both Iran’s president has advocated in the past, but which Britain’s foreign secretary rejected outright two weeks ago.

Dominic Raab said the UK had seized the Iranian ship in compliance with international law, while the Revolutionary Guard had captured the British tanker illegally.

Dominic Raab, currently the British Foreign Secretary.
Reuters

“There is no quid pro quo,” Raab told the BBC’s “Today” radio program on July 29. “Grace 1 was intercepted because it was in breach of sanctions and heading with oil to Syria.”

“We were absolutely lawfully entitled to detain it in the way we did. The Stena Impero was unlawfully detained,” he added.

“So this isn’t about some kind of barter. This is about international law and the rules of the international legal system being upheld, and this is what we will insist on.”

Read more: Britain rejects swapping seized oil tankers with Iran, 4 days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s father said it would be ‘easy peasy’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s father has also advocated a tanker swap.

“Of course you have this situation at the moment where we’ve got your ship which is called Stella, you’ve got our ship, which is called something else,” Stanley Johnson told Iran’s Press TV channel on July 25, while misnaming the Iranian vessel.

“Well, the best thing would be to say, look, we let your ship go, you let our ship go,” he added. “Easy peasy.”

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