Hours before the British territory Gibraltar was set to release Grace 1, an Iranian supertanker that Britain's Royal Navy seized July 4 on suspicions of smuggling oil to Syria, the U.S. put in a last-minute request Thursday to take custody of the supertanker instead. "The U.S. Department of Justice has applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations which are now being considered," Gibraltar's government said in a statement. "The matter will return to the Supreme Court of Gibraltar" Thursday afternoon. Britain's Foreign Office said "investigations conducted around the Grace 1 are a matter for the government of Gibraltar."
Britain's seizure of the Iranian tanker had sparked a diplomatic row with Tehran, and Iran's Revolution Guard Corps nabbed a British-flagged Swedish tanker, Stena Impero, on July 19. Last week, Britain said it will join the U.S. in having its Navy escort merchant ships past Iran in the Strait of Hormuz. Gibraltar said releasing Grace 1 was part of a bid to "de-escalate" the situation. Peter Weber