Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (FRANCE)- The Iranian government has threatened to seize a British oil tanker if the UK does not release the oil supertanker captured by Royal Marines near Gibraltar, a senior official in Tehran has said.

On Thursday, British marines and Gibraltar police seized the Panama-flagged tanker off the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula. The vessel is owned by a Singaporean company.

Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo claimed that the ship was transporting crude oil to Syria “in violation” of the EU sanctions placed on Damascus. According to Madrid, which considers the waters off Gibraltar to be its own, the British captured the ship at the request of the US. Officials in Washington, meanwhile, welcomed the seizure of the vessel, saying that it was carrying Iranian oil

Iran immediately summoned the British ambassador and criticized the seizure of the vessel as “a destructive step «and “a form of piracy.” Foreign Ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi said that the sanctions against Syria are illegal under international law and Iran does not recognize them.

On Friday, Major General Mohsen Rezaee of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who is also the secretary of the influential Expediency Discernment Council, tweeted that Iran should be ready for counter measures.

Should Britain refuse to release the ship, it is the authorities’ “duty to seize a British oil tanker,” he argued.

The detained vessel had a 28-person crew, mostly Indians, but also some Pakistanis and Ukrainians. They are being interviewed as witnesses, not criminal suspects, Gibraltarian officials said. The authorities are currently working to establish the nature of the cargo and its destination.

The United Kingdom is particularly keen to be seen doing Washington’s bidding as the Brexit crisis unfolds. A quick free trade agreement with the US would immeasurably strengthen the position of the British government.

The Gibraltar government also has a strong incentive to keep in with both Washington and Brussels as the Brexit negotiations continue.There is zero chance the Gibraltarians would have acted against Iran on their own initiative.

The Iranian government benefits from support from the Chinese government in its standoff with Washington. The Chinese have shown Iran the way in dealing with Western aggressive tactics by imprisoning Canadians in China in retaliation for what they see as the judicial kidnapping of Huawei Finance Director, Meng Wangzhou, also on grounds of breach of US sanctions.

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