LONDON/TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- The British territory of Gibraltar will not yet release an Iranian oil tanker seized by Royal Marines in the Mediterranean, an official Gibraltar source said.
The commandeering of the Grace 1 on July 4, denounced by Tehran as "piracy”, exacerbated frictions between Tehran and the West and led to retaliatory moves in Persian Gulf waterways used to ship oil.
The deputy head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization, Jalil Eslami, said on Tuesday that Britain was thinking of freeing the Grace 1 following an exchange of documents.
"The vessel was seized based on false allegations,” Eslami said in comments reported by IRNA news agency. "We hope the release will take place soon.”
Iran’s Fars news agency, quoting unidentified Gibraltar authorities, said the tanker would be freed by Tuesday evening.
However, a senior source in the government of British overseas territory denied that would happen on Tuesday.
Although Grace 1 was seized by British forces, Britain said on Tuesday that investigations into the tanker Grace were a matter for Gibraltar. The territory initially admitted that the encroachment was made on Washington’s orders.
"As this is an ongoing investigation, we are unable to comment further,” a British Foreign Office spokesman said.
Tehran has denied the vessel was doing anything improper and in retaliation Islamic Revolution Guards Corps troops seized the British-flagged Stena Impero tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19 for marine violations.
Earlier, maritime security company Dryad Global had reported that Grace 1 had signaled a new destination of Morocco, but later removed the update.
TankerTrackers.com also tweeted that the tanker had been signaling Morocco as its next destination after having spent five weeks in Gibraltar.
The Persian Gulf tanker crisis has added to worsening hostilities since Washington pulled out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers, under which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for lifting sanctions on Tehran.
The seized Iranian tanker was carrying a cargo of up to 2.1 million barrels of oil. The Stena Impero was impounded by Iranian forces on its way to the Persian Gulf.
Millions of barrels of oil pass daily through the various bottlenecks from Middle East oil producers to markets across the globe.
Eslami said Tehran has been making efforts towards securing the release of Grace 1.
"We hope that the problem will be resolved in the near future and that the ship can continue sailing with the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said
The Iranian official defended Tehran’s confiscation on July 19 of the 30,000-tonne Stena Impero.
He said the UK and the U.S. used the confiscation as a pretext to propose the formation a maritime coalition aimed at Iran, which the official said is doomed to failure.
The British vessel had been involved in an accident with an Iranian fishing boat and had ignored its distress call, changing its route. It also switched off its tracking system and used the exit lane to enter the strategic strait.