Jul 24, 2019, 2:35 AM
Journalist ID: 2078
News Code: 83408621
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Maritime Game of Thrones: UK forays into uncharted waters
The Panama-flagged vessel Grace 1 seen in the Strait of Gibraltar at the background of a setting sun.

Tehran, July 24, IRNA - The British colony Gibraltar doesn’t have any territorial waters, says a political analyst, stressing that British and Gibraltar authorities have taken an illegal action in seizing the oil tanker in international waters early July. 

The Panama-flagged supertanker Grace 1 was captured by the Gibraltar police and the UK Royal Navy July 4 when it stopped only two miles off east of Gibraltar to resupply. 

Spain gave up Gibraltar to the UK under the 1715 Peace of Utrecht, however,  the waters around the colony were not part of the deal, says Jesús Murciego, a Spanish analyst, who fully knows the British politics and the territorial dispute between Spain and England. 

“This is a special case because the Spanish monarchy gave up the Rock’s territory and not its waters. So, according to the international laws, these are not Gibraltar waters but, of course, the Gibraltar officials claim so,” he added in an interview with IRNA. 

“They didn’t act according to the international laws. It’s a grey zone. The people in Gibraltar right now are not the original citizens of Gibraltar, the people who came from Malta. The original nation of Gibraltar had to go to the Spanish town of La Línea de la Concepción, the frontier point that is called Campo de Gibraltar,” he added. 

The map illustrates the territorial dispute between Spain and the UK over Gibraltar waters. Source: El País

According to this map, the territorial dispute between Madrid and London is about the waters around Gibraltar from a long time ago. That is, Spain doesn’t recognize the Gibraltarian waters, saying they are Spanish waters.   

The British seizure of the supertanker in the disputed area has irritated Madrid. Caretaker Spanish Prime Minister Josep Borrell, who is about to replace Federica Mogherini, the outgoing European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security, has expressed his dissatisfaction for the British move in the waters which Spain claims. 

Borrell clearly said that Washington had tipped off London about the tanker’s arrival in the European waters. But, didn’t inform Spain. 

Now the Spanish government is planning to present an official complaint against the United Kingdom for this incursion, according to Spanish Foreign Affairs Ministry sources that have talked to the Spanish daily El País. 

“We are studying the circumstances and seeing how this situation affects our sovereignty,” Borrell mentioned cautiously, according to the British daily. 

“This is an area of disputed waters, the gray area of the international maritime laws and the US seized this opportunity to call their preferred European partners, telling them to do the dirty work. This is what the British did through their Royal Navy,” Jesús Murciego stated in the interview that was carried out through Skype.  

The Gibraltar authorities have bragged about the tanker’s seizure, claiming that it was carrying Iranian oil to the brims, headed for the Syrian port refinery of Banyas in the Mediterranean Sea. 

The European Union sanctioned Syria in 2011 when internal protests morphed into an all-out international war. The EU sanctions are not binding for third countries, only to be observed by the 28 member states. 

All the same, Iran denies the British and Gibraltar authorities’ claims, saying the Iranian crude wasn’t supposed to arrive in Syria. 

The supertanker, with a length of 330 meters and filled to the brims, couldn’t go through the Suez Canal, so it sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa before heading towards the Mediterranean. 

Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo rushed on July 4 to boast the capture of Grace 1, assuring that it was a decision made by Gibraltar authorities “without any other government request”. 

“This move can hardly be justified under the international laws and regulations,” according to Murciego who talked to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). 

The United Nations General Assembly’s Resolution 2429 

According to the Resolution 2429 of the 23rd UNGA, approved 18 December 1968, the UK, as the Administrative Power, had to end the colonial situation of Gibraltar before 1st October, 1969, according to the Spanish Foreign Ministry’s website. 

“Maintaining such situation is contrary to the objectives and principles of the UN charter,” added the resolution. 

Despite the resolution, Spain hasn’t taken a firm stance, urging the UK to liberate the vessel.

Jesús Murciego is very critical of the Spanish politics when it comes to the Gibraltar issues, calling it “servile” approach. 

“Like servants, the Spanish government has gave up the land although it’s not stipulated in the UN resolution that calls for decolonisation of Gibraltar. Tha is, the UN has recognised Gibraltar a colony like Hong Kong, but, surely Spain isn’t China,” criticised the Spanish analyst who believes no Spanish government will take a firm stand in this regard. 

“Spain doesn’t have the power to tell the British “Get out of here”. Previously, there was a dictator and now there is a very servile democracy that allows others to lay claim on something that is not theirs. Legally, Gibraltar doesn’t have territorial waters,” he explained. 

Murciego believes that Spain can take the British to The Hague and demand a revision of the 1715 pact or at least claim the disputed waters, the isthmus and the nearby territories in a bid to prevent the British from abusing it, and later it can go to the UN. But, she doesn’t that either,” he regretted. 

This past Friday, Gibraltar authorities extended the Grace 1’s seizure to at least August 15 after liberating its crews. 

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in a phone conversation last week that London could let the tanker go if Tehran guarantees that it won’t go to Syria. 

“The British want to detain the ship the longest time period possible without escalating the tensions. This is a game of walking a fine line,” noted the Spanish analyst who knows the British policies very well. 

Murciego argues that the UK has waded into maritime Game of Thrones between Iran, the US and its allies. 

“It’s like a tug of war because if Iran controls the Strait of Hormuz, so the British are in control of the Gibraltar and they got involved in a tit-for-tat action that without making much noise, they wait for more tensions,” he added, stressing that “the US is seeking a regime change in Iran so it has used the British, their pawns, and their bishops, the Spanish, to cause all the irritation that could make Iran explode”.

 Iran has recently seized British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the Persian Gulf, saying the vessel had violated the international maritime laws.  

The Spanish analyst believes that Iran has turned into the evil in the situation, dominated by the “world police”. 

“As Iran has been turned into the evil character of the film, the press paints all the abuses against the country like the deserved result of its actions, that is, “it’s ok. But, these wouldn’t happen to a big and firm country that won’t be the evil. This is an abuse by the world police, the US and the UK,” he argues. 

Can Iran take the UK to international courts?

Tehran has accused London of piracy at sea, urging the tanker’s release. But, as Grace 1 is flying the Panama flag, only this country call for the vessel’s release or take other actions, according to a judicial study carried out by the Iranian government. 

“The judicial process could take very long because the international maritime laws are dominated by the British, their courts are in London and Singapore. They may rule in favor of Iran but following a very long time,” he warned. 

However, Iran can go to the UN and complain against the UK for violating international maritime laws, according to Murciego. The same point is confirmed by the Iranian government study. 
“Iran can go to the Un but there it needs all Security Council members’ supports. What’s going on is that the US withdrew from the 2015 international agreement and using the oil embargo as a weapon, seeking to tighten the noose on Iran,” he concluded. 

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