Greece said on Wednesday that it would not give safe harbour to Iran’s Grace 1 oil tanker after the US threatened to bring sanctions against any state that aided the ship.
The Iranian oil tanker left Gibraltar over the weekend after a month in British detention and was heading East across the Mediterranean towards the Greek port of Kalamata.
The US warned Athens that there could be diplomatic and economic consequences if it helped the ship, which is carrying around 2 million barrels of oil.
“We have made clear that anyone who touches it, anyone who supports it, anyone who allows a ship to dock is at risk of receiving sanctions from the United States,” said Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state.
Hours after Mr Pomepeo’s warning, Greece announced that the ship was not welcome to dock at any Greek ports nor unloads its $130 million cargo of oil.
Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, the deputy foreign minister, said the 1,000-foot long ship was too large for any Greek port and said Greece would abide by EU sanctions against transporting oil to Syria.
“We are sending a message that we are not prepared to facilitate the course of this ship to Syria,” Mr Varvitsiotis said. “And this is a message that we have made very clear.”
He said that if the ship entered Greek waters or anchored offshore, then authorities would “see” what to do next.
The US says the ships and its oil are being used to support Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which Washington considers a terrorist group. The Trump administration made an unsuccessful effort to get Gibraltar to detain the ship on those grounds.
If the Grace 1, now renamed the Adrian Darya 1, enters Greek waters then the US could make a second legal effort to have an allied government seize the ship. Greece appears eager to avoid being caught up in the confrontation between the US and Tehran.
Iran has acknowledged the ship is linked to the Revolutionary Guard but denies that it was ever heading to Syria. Tehran has warned Washington not to try to interfere with the ship’s passage from Gibraltar.
The EU has not designated the Guard as a terror group and EU states say they will only move against the ship if it attempts to carry its oil to Syria, which is under European sanctions.
The Trump administration’s continuing focus on the ship is likely to only delay the release of the Stena Impero, the British-flagged tanker seized by the Revolutionary Guard in July, along with its 23 crew members.
Iran initially indicated that the Stena Impero had been seized in retaliation for the Grace 1 but now claims that the ship violated maritime rules in the Persian Gulf.
Mohammad Rastad, Iran’s deputy transport minister, said the case of Stena Impero had been submitted to a court in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas, without giving a date when it would be heard.
Australia announced on Wednesday that it was joining the US-led naval mission to protect civilian ships in the Persian Gulf. Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, said he was sending a frigate and surveillance plane to take part.
Britain and Bahrain had already joined US mission but France and Germany have refused to take part, arguing it is part of Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.