What is The Iranian Oil Tanker Doing off Syrian Port?

Published September 8th, 2019 - 09:04 GMT
Iranian flag flutters on board the Adrian Darya oil tanker (AFP)
Iranian flag flutters on board the Adrian Darya oil tanker (AFP)
Experts say the Darya may transfer its cargo to another ship and the U.S. has angrily warned its allies not to help the tanker. 

The Iranian oil tanker at the centre of a tense stand-off with the West has been pictured near a Syrian port, despite Tehran's promises that the ship was not delivering its cargo to the Assad regime. 

The Adrian Darya 1 was dramatically seized by British Royal Marine commandos off Gibraltar in July but released last month despite Washington's protests.

Iran insisted the ship and its 2.1million barrels of oil were not headed for Syria, but fears have grown since the tanker turned its tracker beacon off last week.

Now, satellite photos taken by a U.S. space technology firm have shown the Darya off the Syrian port of Tartus.

Experts say the Darya may transfer its cargo to another ship and the U.S. has angrily warned its allies not to help the tanker. 

The seizure of the ship on July 4 sent Middle East tensions ratcheting up alarmingly in the wake of several mysterious explosions on Gulf ships. 

Gibraltar's government said the ship, then called the Grace 1, was headed to Syria in violation of EU sanctions but Iran denied this. 

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The ship was allowed to leave in August after Tehran gave assurances that the oil would not be delivered to Syria. 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Gibraltar's decision 'very unfortunate', in an implicit rebuke to Britain. 

Now Iran's denials seem more dubious than ever after the photos were published by U.S. firm Maxar TechnologiesInc. 

Donald Trump's hardline aide John Bolton shared one of the pictures and said: 'Anyone who said the Adrian Darya 1 wasn't headed to Syria is in denial'.

'Tehran thinks it's more important to fund the murderous Assad regime than provide for its own people.' he said. 

The tanker had turned off its Automatic Identification System late Monday, intensifying speculation that it would be heading to Syria. 

Washington wants the tanker detained because it says the vessel has links to Iran's Revolutionary Guards, which it has designated a terrorist organisation. 

Tehran has warned that any U.S. move to seize the vessel again would have 'heavy consequences'. 

Iran responded to the capture of the Grace 1 with a series of threats to British shipping, and on July 19 Iran's Revolutionary Guards seized the UK-flagged vessel Stena Impero in what was widely seen as a retaliation. 

Iranian officials claimed the Stena had been seized for flouting maritime laws after supposedly hitting a fishing boat and switching off its distress signal. 

However, a spokesman for Iran's Guardian Council undermined that claim, saying that 'the rule of reciprocal action is well-known in international law'. 

Iran paraded the Stena's crew and Britain and America both beefed up their military presence in the Middle East in response to the shipping crisis.

Britain's HMS Montrose had 85 'interactions' with Iranian forces in just 27 days of patrolling the Gulf, the commanding officer of the Royal Navy ship revealed.  

President Hassan Rouhani warned the West that 'throughout history, Iran has been and will be the main guardian of security and free navigation' in the Gulf. 

Experts have warned that a crisis in the critical Strait of Hormuz could endanger the world's oil supply.   

On Wednesday Iran said it would release seven of the 23 crew members on board the Stena Impero, but the ship is still idling at an Iranian port. 

Tehran said it had 'no problem with the crew and the captain' and had seized the ship on legal grounds.  

Tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions have also been heightening as Tehran moves ever further away from its 2015 nuclear deal. 

After Donald Trump quit the nuclear deal in 2018, the U.S. administration reimposed tough sanctions on Iran, which retaliated by increasing its enrichment of uranium beyond limits set in the nuclear accord.  

Trump called off air strikes against Iran at the last minute in June after the Islamic republic downed a U.S. drone.      

This article has been adapted from its original source.    

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