Little Gibraltar acted while other larger EU nations did nothing to protect EU sanctions

Yesterday saw the court proceedings in regards to the Iranian Grace 1 supertanker, and the US Department of Justice’s request for it to further detain the vessel. The tanker has been a big topic in Gibraltar since its detention on the 4th July, and many people seem to be confused by its significance and why should Gibraltar, which is not responsible for foreign affairs and defence, have taken a lead role and not the UK. 

On the 4th of July 2019 at 02:01am, the Gibraltar Port authority along with other agencies captured the Grace 1 when she was sailing through British Gibraltar’s Territorial Waters. It was detained because of suspicion that it violated European Sanctions.

On the 5th of July, and on the 19th of July, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar ordered that the vessel should continue being detained on the grounds that the court was satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the detention of the Vessel was required for complying with EU Council Regulations (The EU Regulation is based around concerning restrictive measures in view of the situation in Syria.)

Article 14.2 of the EU Regulation prohibits any economic resource from being made available to entities, bodies or people listed in the Annex II and IIa of the EU Regulation. The cargo on the vessel, 2.1 million barrels of Iranian Light crude oil, was indeed an economic resource.

The Sanctions Act of 2019 required the Government of Gibraltar to enforce the EU Regulation, which is why Gibraltar acted quickly to detain the vessel. However, many people are asking why other EU countries, for example Spain, did not take any action - and it was left to little Gibraltar. The tanker also went through the Canary Islands.

The vessel’s destination was a place called the ‘Baniyas Refinery Company’ also known as ‘The Homs Refinery Company’. Its owners are the only crude oil refineries on the coast of Syria and both company names are under Annex II of the EU Regulation.

The Government knew that this was indeed the intended destination because of emails between the Captain of the Vessel and the Vessel’s managing agents, and because of external communications made by crew members. There is also the factor that the refineries at the ports of Baniyas and Homs are the only places in Syria able to accept a discharge of cargo on the vessel, or indeed to have a possible use for it.

HMGoG says it was, and is, satisfied that the destination of the Vessel was, at the time of her specification and detention, an entity listed in Part B of Annex II of the EU Regulation, and that the Vessel was thereby at the time involved in a breach of EU Regulation, and that the grounds upon which they specified the Vessel have accordingly be sustained.


However, after the government met with the Iranian Embassy in London, the government were assured that the destination of the vessel will now not be an entity that is subject of EU sanctions. Satisfied with this, the Government saw no reason to further keep the vessel detained and thus made arrangements for the tanker to be released on the 15th of August, and so it was.


Meanwhile, the Department of Justice in the US issued a request to the Supreme Court for the tanker to be seized and detained for longer, and the basis for this request wasn’t revealed in court. However this was declined as there was no former U.S application currently before the court at the time.

Separately, the United States Department of Justice had requested that a new legal procedure for the detention of the vessel should be commenced.

"That is a matter for our independent Mutual Legal Assistance authorities who will make an objective, legal determination of that request for separate proceedings," said the chief minister.

In announcing that investigations have been conducted which have produced evidence confirming that at the time of its detention the Grace 1 was indeed carrying its cargo to the Baniyas refinery in Syria, the point has been made that this was in contravention of Article 14 of the EU Regulation on Sanctions on Syria.

The Grace 1 is therefore now released from detention under the Sanctions Act by operation of law as confirmed this afternoon by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Said Mr Picardo: The net effect is that this operation has become the most successful implementation of the European sanctions regime to date. It also amounts to a demonstration that Gibraltar is a jurisdiction that acts in keeping with the law and is committed to the rules based, international legal order. Gibraltar can be proud of the role it has discharged in guarding the entrance to the Mediterranean and enforcing EU sanctions.