Royal Gibraltar Police confirmed Friday that two men detained on suspicion of violating sanctions against Syria were Indian nationals and they were being provided consular access.
Both men were aboard Grace 1, which is accused of violating the European Union sanctions on Syria.
The police in Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory on the Spanish coast, said the Indian High Commission in the UK had been informed and the Indian nationals were being provided consular access after their vessel was detained on suspicion of violating sanctions against Syria.
“The investigation remains ongoing and the two men, both Indian nationals, have been arrested and are being questioned. They have not been charged,” a Royal Gibraltar Police spokesperson said.
The Indian High Commission in London said that it is in contact with the authorities and “consular access has been sought and all assistance will be provided to the Indian citizens”.
Iran blames the US for arranging to have its ship seized in the wake of sanctions imposed against Tehran 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.
The arrested men were aboard Grace 1, which was carrying Iranian crude oil to the Baniyas Refinery in Syria in breach of the European Union (EU) sanctions. Gibraltar port and law enforcement agencies had detained the supertanker and its cargo on July 4 with the help of Britain”s Royal Marines.
The master and chief officer of the ship were held in relation to breaches of the European Union Regulations 36/2012, concerning restrictive measures in view of the situation in Syria, the local police said.
“The Grace 1 continues detained under the provisions of the Sanctions Regulations 2019 which are born out of the Sanctions Act 2019,” a police statement said.
Iran has reiterated calls for the UK to release its oil tanker and warned Britain not to get involved in “this dangerous game”.
“This is a dangerous game and we advise them not get involved in this game under America”s influence,” said Iran”s Foreign ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi.
“We ask them again to release the tanker immediately, which will be in all countries” interest,” he said.
Iran has previously claimed the tanker was not bound for Syria and threatened to seize a British oil tanker in retaliation, if its tanker was not released.
Gibraltar has insisted its decision to detain the Iranian tanker was taken alone and not based on any political considerations.
The semi-autonomous British Overseas Territory”s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, told the Gibraltar Parliament: “The decisions of Her Majesty”s Government of Gibraltar were taken totally independently, based on breaches of existing law and not at all based on extraneous political considerations.
“These important decisions about breaches of our laws were not decisions taken at the political behest or instruction of any other state or third party.
He said the vessel contained 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil and was detained because there were “reasonable grounds” to believe it was in breach of EU sanctions.
“We will not allow Gibraltar to be used or knowingly or unknowingly complicit in the breach of EU or other international sanctions,” he added.
The entire affair has led to an increase in tension in the Gulf, with UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt calling for a “time for cool heads”.
Britain brought forward plans to send a second warship to the Gulf amid an escalation of the standoff between Iran and the UK over the Grace 1 oil tanker”s detention.
HMS Duncan, which is currently in the Mediterranean, is expected to join HMS Montrose in the region next week. It follows a face-off involving HMS Montrose, a British frigate shadowing a BP-owned tanker, and Iranian boats trying to impede the British oil tanker on Thursday.
“As part of our long-standing presence in the Gulf, HMS Duncan is deploying to the region to ensure we maintain a continuous maritime security presence while HMS Montrose comes off task for pre-planned maintenance and crew changeover, a UK government spokesperson said.
“This will ensure that the UK, alongside international partners, can continue to support freedom of navigation for vessels transiting through this vital shipping lane,” the spokesperson added.