*This article has been updated, further developments below:
In an unexpected turn of events, the US Department of Justice has applied to the Supreme Court of Gibraltar to seize the Iranian ‘Grace 1’ tanker, which had been seized by the British authorities in Gibraltar on 4th July.
At a hearing which was scheduled to take place before Gibraltar’s Chief Justice this morning, it was widely expected that the Government of Gibraltar, having been satisfied that the ship is not heading for Syria in breach of EU sanctions, was going to agree to its release.
As is well known, the Grace 1’s arrest had raised tensions with Iran who has since been detaining Western ships in the Straits of Hormuz in reprisal and led to a military escalation which has included the deployment of Royal Navy and US Navy ships to the Hormuz area.
The indications last night were that the authorities of Gibraltar wanted the matter resolved quickly today, but the eruption into the scene of the United States may have put paid to that intention.
The court hearing has now been postponed until 4 PM today whilst the authorities in Gibraltar, London and Washington are no doubt attempting to achieve a resolution which accommodates the interests of all concerned.
UPDATE 16:54 PM, 15/08/2019
Reconvening at 4PM this afternoon, the Chief Justice of Gibraltar heard how the Chief Minister had issued a notice to the effect that the Grace 1 had ceased to be a “specified ship” within the meaning of the relevant EU sanctions.
Accordingly the Chief Justice confirmed that the vessel was no longer subject to detention, but agreed to issue a written order to that effect to ensure that there was no confusion among the Captain of the Port of Gibraltar, or any of the law enforcement agencies.
The vessel was therefore free to leave immediately.
The judge took note that the US Government had issued certain Letters of Request to the Gibraltar authorities, but as these had not been accompanied by any court process, the court could make no determination on them.