All 24 Indian crew members who were aboard the Grace 1 -- an Iranian tanker seized by Gibraltar authorities with the help of British marines over a month ago -- have been freed, Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan tweeted on Thursday. The much-awaited development comes over a month after India launched efforts to secure their release amid rising tensions between Iran and the United Kingdom.
"Spoke to our High Commission @HCI_London on VLCC Grace 1. They confirmed that all 24 Indian crew aboard VLCC Grace 1 have been released by Gibraltar authorities and are free to return to India," Mr Muraleedharan tweeted, tagging Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, among others.
Spoke to our High Commission @HCI_London on VLCC Grace 1. They confirmed all 24 Indian crew aboard VLCC Grace 1 have been released by Gibraltar authorities and are free to return to India. @narendramodi@PMOIndia@AmitShah@DrSJaishankar@MEAIndia@VMBJP— V. Muraleedharan (@MOS_MEA) August 15, 2019
The Grace 1 was detained by Gibraltar authorities with the help of the United Kingdom on July 4 on charges of transporting oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. Two weeks later, Iran reciprocated by seizing a British oil tanker near the Strait of Hormuz. The 18 Indians aboard the British vessel, the Stena Impero, are yet to be released.
"I'm grateful and thankful for my release. And I am grateful to everybody in my legal team who have facilitated my release," news agency PTI quoted the Indian Captain of the Grace 1 tanker as saying. Gibraltar has also confirmed that police proceedings against four members of the crew had ended.
"The US Department of Justice has applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations, which are now being considered. The matter will return to our Supreme Court," the Gibraltar government said, referring to a hearing that was expected later on Thursday.
Chances of securing the release of the Indian crew aboard both the ships had looked quite slim until a few weeks ago. "There is no question of a swap. This is not a game of swapping," British High Commissioner Dominic Asquith had told journalists during a media interaction late last month, when asked if the 24 Indians aboard the Grace 1 could be released in exchange for freeing those on the Stena Impero.
Last week, Stena Bulk -- the tanker operator owning the Stena Impero -- had sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi's help to secure its release. "Before the situation with those on board and with their families becomes more distressing, I would request you to personally intervene and seek that the crew be released back to their families, who anxiously await their safe return," Stena Bulk Chief Executive and President Erik Hanell appealed in a letter to PM Modi.
(With inputs from PTI)