Police in Gibraltar said they have arrested two more crew members from a seized Iranian tanker suspected of breaching European Union sanctions by shipping oil to Syria, a day after detaining the captain and chief officer.
All four men are Indian nationals and are being questioned in connection with an “investigation of the suspected export of crude oil to the Banyas refinery in Syria”, the Royal Gibraltar Police said in a statement on Friday.
None of them have been charged with any crime so far, the local Gibraltar Chronicle reported.
The Grace 1 vessel was intercepted by the British overseas territory on the southern tip of Spain on July 4. A senior Spanish official said the operation was requested by the United States.
The arrests of the captain and chief officer on Thursday followed “a protracted search of the vessel, where documents and electronic devices have been seized and examined”, police said.
Earlier on Friday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi issued a new warning to Britain over the impounded tanker.
“Should Britain let itself be influenced and drawn into dangerous games by the US, we would advise them to rather not do that,” said Mousavi.
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told Gibraltar’s parliament on Friday that his government decided to seize the tanker “totally independently, based on breaches of existing [EU sanctions] law and not at all based on extraneous political considerations”.
The British government said the Iranian supertanker was believed to be carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil to Syria.
The EU and others have imposed sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government over its continued attacks on civilians.
Call for calm
Tensions in the Gulf between UK and Iran have risen since the interception by the British Royal Marines last week.
Britain’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday that three Iranian ships had tried to “impede” a British oil tanker as it travelled through the Strait of Hormuz, after Iran threatened retaliation for the seizure of its ship.
On Friday, Britain said it was sending a second warship to the Gulf and raising the alert level in the region.
Both Sky News and the BBC reported that the HMS Duncan, a Type 45 Destroyer, will sail to the Gulf after taking part in NATO exercises in the Black Sea.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called for calm amid the rising tensions, saying the UK does not want a conflict with Iran.
“This is a time for cool heads” to make sure there is no “unintended escalation which could be very dangerous for the world“, he said.
The Pentagon said it is discussing military escorts for vessels in the Gulf and attempting to put together a coalition over the next couple of weeks.
The US Fifth Fleet is also working closely with the British Royal Navy as well as regional and global partners to defend freedom of navigation through the region.
What’s behind the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker?