UK commandos have seized a tanker suspected to be carrying Iranian oil to Syria, offshore Gibraltar.

Authorities in Gibraltar claim they have reasonable grounds to believe the Grace 1 tanker was carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Banyas refinery in Syria, in breach of European Union (EU) sanctions against Syria.

According to the BBC, a team of about 30 marines was flown from the UK to Gibraltar to help seize the tanker and its cargo at the request of the Gibraltar government.

EU and US sanctions have been placed on Syria since 2011 as a result of the ongoing civil war between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and various domestic forces with support from foreign governments. These sanctions have caused oil production in Syria to collapse, disrupting the country’s oil and gas industry.

Following operation, Iran summoned the British ambassador in Tehran to express its objections. An Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson described the UK Navy’s actions as being “tantamount to maritime piracy,” citing the fact that the Grace 1 was sailing in international waters.

Gibraltar chief minister Fabian Picardo said: “As the sanctions being enforced are established by the EU, I have written this morning to the Presidents of the European Commission and Council, setting out the details of the sanctions which we have enforced.

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“I want to thank the brave men and women of the Royal Marines, the Royal Gibraltar Police, Her Majesty’s Customs Gibraltar and the Gibraltar Port Authority, for their work in securing the detention of this vessel and its cargo.

“Be assured that Gibraltar remains safe, secure and committed to the international, rules-based, legal order.”

Tensions between Iran and the west have heightened following Iran’s breaching of limits placed on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium in July 2019, as well as US officials attributing an attack on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz to Iran in June 2019.

Iran’s energy industry has struggled after President Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 group of world leaders and imposing sanctions on Iranian exports.

As these sanctions prevent Iran and Syria from exporting oil and gas to a number of EU and US-affiliated nations, the two countries have made illicit trades to each other as strategic allies.

Fotech Solutions product line director Stuart Large told Offshore Technology: “The ongoing crisis in the Middle East has seen assets such as tankers and pipelines being targeted. Recent drone attacks on key Saudi pipelines have actually caused pipelines in the region to shut down.

“These attacks create wider issues for the global oil industry and have caused a global spike in oil prices. These incidents are showing that pipelines and broader assets within the region are at risk from similar attacks. For this reason, security solutions providers must deploy technology that can protect these valuable assets.”