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Gibraltar denies Iranian claims oil tanker soon to be released

British forces captured the Iranian vessel on 4 July off Gibraltar's coast on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria, ratcheting up tensions between Tehran and the West
Iran tanker Grace 1
Grace 1 was detained off the coast of Gibraltar for the suspected breaching of EU sanctions by shipping oil to Syria (AFP)

The short-term fate of Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 was thrown further into doubt on Thursday afternoon when an official from Gibraltar, which seized the vessel, denied reports it would soon be freed.

Earlier in the day an Iranian official said on Tuesday that the British overseas territory might free the Grace 1 soon, after some documents were exchanged that would help the ship’s release.

“Britain is interested in releasing Iran’s oil tanker Grace 1," the deputy head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organisation, Jalil Eslami, was quoted as saying to IRNA new agency.

"Following the exchange of some documents, we hope the release will take place soon."

However, a senior Gibraltar official, speaking anonymously due to protocol, told the Associated Press that suggestions the tanker could depart on Tuesday night were "untrue".

TankerTrackers, a company which monitors ship movements, reported on Monday that the Grace 1 was sending signals that its next destination would be Morocco.

A UK Foreign Office spokesman said on Tuesday that investigations into the tanker were a matter for the government of Gibraltar. "As this is an ongoing investigation, we are unable to comment further," he told the Reuters news agency.

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A Gibraltar court is scheduled to decide the fate of the ship later on this week when an order for its detention lapses.

British authorities detained the Iranian tanker on 4 July off its overseas territory on allegations it was smuggling oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

Iran denied this, calling the ship's seizure "piracy" and warning it would not let the interception go unanswered.

Two weeks later, Iran impounded British tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz for breaking "international maritime rules".

Iran, however, has said it did not capture the Stena Impero in retaliation for the Grace 1 seizure.