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24 Indians aboard Iranian tanker Grace 1 get released, minister confirms in tweet

A sailboat sails as a boat approaches to the boarding ladder of the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 Strait of Gibraltar, southern Spain. Photograph:( Reuters )

WION New Delhi Aug 15, 2019, 07.18 PM (IST) Written By: Sidhant Sibal Edited By: Sparshita Saxena

Gibraltar authorities have released all 24 Indians on-board Iranian tanker 'Grace 1' that was taken into custody on July 4.

V Muraleedharan, Minister of State, External Affairs confirmed the development in a tweet.

"Spoke to our High Commission in London on VLCC Grace 1 (Iranian tanker being held on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions). They confirmed all 24 Indian crew aboard Grace 1 have been released," his tweet read. 

Grace 1 was detained off the coast of British territory Gibraltar for allegedly carrying oil to Syria that would have violated sanctions on the country. 

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Last month, officials from the Indian Mission in London got the consular access to its crew members. The 3-member team went to meet them. The Indian crew spent 43 days in detention on-board. Citizens from Russia, Philipines were also on the tanker.

Focus is now on the 18 Indians on-board UK oil tanker Stena Impero which has been detained by Iran. Stena Impero was detained for "failing to respect international maritime rules," according to Iranian authorities.

Meanwhile, the United States applied on Thursday to seize the Iranian tanker in Gibraltar, halting its expected release at the last minute and preventing a possible swap for British-flagged tanker held by Iran.

The Grace 1 oil tanker was seized by Royal Marine commandos in a landing in darkness off the coast of the British overseas territory on July 4.

Gibraltar said the tanker was suspected of selling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions. Two weeks later, Iran's Revolutionary Guards seized the British-flagged Stena Impero in the Gulf on July 19.

Gibraltar was widely expected to release the Grace 1 on Thursday, but just hours before, the US Department of Justice sought to seize it.

"The US Department of Justice has applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations which are now being considered," the government of Gibraltar said, adding the matter would return to the supreme court of Gibraltar at 1400 GMT on Thursday.

Stena Bulk, which operates the tanker Stena Impero, has made an appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. President and CEO, Erik Hanell has appealed to PM Modi, "seeking help and assistance" for the release of Indian seafarers detained by the Iranian authorities. 

Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale has met the Iranian Ambassador in Delhi and the Indian envoy in Tehran has had meetings with senior officials of Iranian foreign ministry regarding the issue.

Stena Bulk has also made similar appeals to the leaders and foreign ministers of Russia, Latvia and the Philippines whose citizens are on-board the tanker.