PANAMA CITY – The Panamanian Maritime Authority said on Thursday that an Iranian oil tanker that British authorities seized off Gibraltar due to suspicion it was transporting oil to Syria in violation of European sanctions had not been flying the Central American nation’s flag since May 29.
The authority said the Grace 1 had been delisted after Panama’s National Security Council had issued an alert indicating the tanker “may be participating in terrorism financing, in support of the destabilizing activities of some regions led by terrorist groups.”
The Panamanian merchant marine, which made up 18 percent of the global merchant fleet in 2016 with more than 8,000 ships registered, is the world’s largest and generates direct and indirect revenue for the Central American nation’s coffers totaling between $125 million and $150 million annually,” according to official figures.
Panama’s international boat registry is an open system, meaning that the owners of ships are not required to have Panamanian nationality or residence. In addition, the Panama registry has no minimum tonnage or age requirements for vessels.
“We reiterate our commitment to international agreements by carrying out the necessary measures against whomever may be considered a threat to the stability of the region, peace and international security, as well as to the prestige of the Panamanian merchant marine,” the authority added.
The 330-meter (1,088-foot) Grace 1 was detained early Thursday by authorities in Gibraltar, a British overseas territory located off Spain’s southern coast.
“In the early hours of this morning, Gibraltar Port and Law Enforcement agencies, assisted by a detachment of (British) Royal Marines, boarded a super tanker carrying crude oil to Syria. We have detained the vessel and its cargo,” the government of Gibraltar said in a statement.
“This action arose from information giving the Gibraltar government reasonable grounds to believe that the vessel, the Grace 1, was acting in breach of European Union sanctions against Syria,” it added.
“In fact, we have reason to believe that the Grace 1 was carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Banyas Refinery in Syria. That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria.”
Those sanctions, which include an oil embargo, were recently extended until June 1, 2020.
The move angered Iran, a close ally of Syria that summoned the United Kingdom’s ambassador over what it said was the “illegal” seizure of the Iranian tanker, the BBC reported Thursday.
The Syrian crisis, which began as a civil war between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the rebel opposition before later escalating into an international conflict, has left more than 350,000 dead, according to figures from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor.
The tanker was seized in contested waters surrounding Gibraltar, prompting protests by the Spanish government.
“We’re seeing how it affects our sovereignty in that it occurred in waters ... we understand to (belong to) Spain,” Spanish acting Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said.