The police proceedings against four Indian crew members, including the captain, aboard an Iranian oil supertanker has ended and they were released by authorities in Gibraltar on Thursday, even as the US Department of Justice made a last-minute claim on the vessel.
"I am grateful and thankful for my release. And I am grateful to all who have facilitated my release in my legal team," the Captain of the Grace 1 tanker said in a statement.
A spokesman for Gibraltar's government also confirmed that police proceedings against four members of the crew had ended.
The arrested Indian crew members – the Master, Chief Officer and two Second Mates – were aboard the Panama-flagged supertanker that was detained off Europa Point in Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory on the Spanish coast, last month.
The Gibraltar authorities had said the vessel is loaded to capacity with crude oil enroute to Syria, in breach of European Union (EU) sanctions.
However, the Gibraltar authorities have since been given assurances from the arrested crew members and Iran that the ship was not on its way to Syria.
A total of 28 crew on board the vessel include majority Indians but also Russians, Latvians and Filipinos, who have spent over a month in detention on board the ship since it was seized in early July.
Their further course remains unclear and complicated as a result of the US intervention to request the seizure of Grace 1, which is set for a hearing in the Supreme Court of Gibraltar later on Thursday.
"The US Department of Justice has applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations which are now being considered. The matter will return to the Supreme Court of Gibraltar," noted a statement from the government of Gibraltar.
The UK Foreign Office has declined to comment on the US request and said that “investigations conducted around the Grace 1 are a matter for the government of Gibraltar".
The Gibraltar port and law enforcement agencies had detained the supertanker and its cargo on July 4 during an operation conducted by the Royal Gibraltar Police (RGP), Customs and Port Authority with the support of British Royal Marines.
A Gibraltar government statement noted: “The detention of the vessel relates to the suspected destination of the cargo, the Banyas refinery in Syria, which is owned by a company, the Banyas Oil Refinery Company. This company is the subject of European Union sanctions under EU Regulation 36/2012, which is directly applicable in Gibraltar.
"The investigations of the Royal Gibraltar Police continue and the vessel remains detained under an Order of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar."However, following the assurances given by Iran and the captain of the ship, the Gibraltar government was all set to allow the vessel to set sail before the US demand, which is reportedly part of the Trump administration's efforts to intensify the effect of existing Western economic sanctions on both Iran and Syria.
Iran had called for the UK to release its oil tanker and warned Britain not to get involved in "this dangerous game", which eventually led to Iran's seizure of a British-flagged tanker in the Gulf as well.
Tehran blames the US for arranging to have its ship seized in the wake of sanctions imposed against Iran with the aim of halting all its oil exports. European countries do not have sanctions against Iran but have had them in place against Iran's ally Syria since 2011.