US moves to seize Iranian vessel in Gibraltar

US moves to seize Iranian vessel in Gibraltar
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The Department of Justice (DOJ) Thursday moved to seize an Iranian tanker currently detained in Gibraltar for breaking international sanctions on oil shipments, spoiling efforts by authorities in London and the British territory to ease tensions with Tehran, multiple media outlets reported.

The Gibraltar government said in a statement to the media that the DOJ is seeking to extend the detention of the oil tanker Grace 1 and that the territory’s Supreme Court would delay a decision regarding the vessel's release until later in the day.

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“The U.S. Department of Justice has applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations, which are now being considered,” the Gibraltar government said in a statement, adding that the court would review the request at 4 p.m.

The DOJ told The Hill it does not have any comment at this time regarding its request.

The British Foreign Office told The Associated Press that the “investigations conducted around the Grace 1 are a matter for the government of Gibraltar” and that it couldn’t comment further.

A lawyer representing the territory’s General Attorney Michael Llamas said Thursday that the U.S. acted at the eleventh hour and that “the ship would have sailed,” the AP reported, citing the Gibraltar Chronicle.

The Grace 1 was seized last month over suspicions it was violating European Union sanctions on oil shipments to Syria. Iran slammed the seizure, likening it to an “act of piracy.” 

Iran shortly after seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in what was widely viewed as retaliation for the Grace 1’s detention.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have skyrocketed in recent weeks as Iran announced it had surpassed the uranium-enrichment limits imposed by an Obama-era nuclear pact. Though President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE withdrew the U.S. from the deal, international observers said Iran had stayed within the agreement’s limits until recently.

Iran has also been accused of bombing oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and downing a U.S. surveillance drone. Trump said he authorized a retaliatory strike but then aborted the attack after learning 150 Iranians could be killed.

The White House has deployed a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran to force it to negotiate a new deal over its nuclear stockpile, missile program and support for armed groups in the Middle East. The administration has already sanctioned Iran's oil industry, metals sector, foreign minister and supreme leader.

“Iran is showing their colors. Going to work out very nicely. Iran is in big trouble right now,” Trump said last month. “A lot of bad things are happening to them. It’s very easy to straighten out, or it’s very easy for us to make it a lot worse.”