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Royal Marines used brute force: Iranian tanker's captain

London

30-July-2019

The Indian captain of an Iranian oil tanker that was seized by Royal Marines earlier in July has claimed the British soldiers used "brute force" when they detained the ship and made his unarmed crew kneel on the deck at gunpoint.

The Grace 1 tanker was detained by authorities in Gibraltar on July 4 with the help of UK Marines on the suspicion that it was ferrying over 2 million barrels crude oil to Syria in breach of European sanctions.

The captain who asked to remain anonymous, told the BBC the Royal Marines forced his crew to kneel at gunpoint after landing on the ship in a helicopter. 

He said he was radioed a police request to board his ship and lowered his ladder. But before anyone could board, a military helicopter landed on the ship in a "very dangerous" move, according to the captain.

He told the BBC he identified himself as the captain but the marines ignored him and instead pointed their guns and shouted, "look forward, look forward".

"They didn't care whether I was master, there was no regulations, we had 28 unarmed crew. I was in a state of shock, everybody was in a state of shock. How do you come on a ship like this with armed forces and such brute force. For what reason," the captain said.

He said the marines could have boarded the ship and told him he had been arrested.

The Indian's account of the seizure contradicts a statement from the police in Gibraltar, who claimed "minimum force" had been used.

A UK Ministry of Defence spokesperson, however, said the seizure "was a standard boarding that was carried out in full compliance with international rules and norms". 

Asked whether he felt there was anything illegitimate about his ship or the cargo, the captain said he had "followed company procedures", adding he didn't know about the EU sanctions against Syria.

The captain has since been arrested and bailed by authorities in Gibraltar.

The seizure of the tanker sparked a diplomatic crisis between the UK and Iran, which has escalated over the past four weeks.

Iran has denied the Grace 1 was heading for Syria, and responded to the seizure by detaining a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital oil shipping route that has become a flashpoint in a deepening standoff between Tehran and the West. 

The Gibraltar government said it had evidence that contradicted statements made by the captain and would release its own statement "soon".

It said it had reason to believe the ship was carrying Iranian crude to the Baniyas Refinery in Syria, which the EU says provides financial support to the Syrian government. The refinery has been subject to EU sanctions since 2014. IANS