Article 22 of the Convention On The High Seas of 1958, states
‘1. Except where acts of interference derive from powers conferred by treaty, a warship which encounters a foreign merchant ship on the high seas is not justified in boarding her unless there is reasonable ground for suspecting:
- (a) That the ship is engaged in piracy; or
- (b) That the ship is engaged in the slave trade; or
- (c) That though flying a foreign flag or refusing to show its flag, the ship is, in reality, of the same nationality as the warship.’
It goes on to state that the naval vessels of one nation can stop the ship of a foreign nation if that ship has violated any laws or regulations of the nation to which the naval vessel belongs if it is found in that nation’s territorial waters.
It is clear that in the case of the boarding and detention of the Panamanian registered, Iranian oil tanker Grace 1, off the Spanish coast, near Gibraltar, on July 4, Britain had no legal right to order its marines to board the Iranian ship, which was either in international waters as the Iranians claim or in Spanish waters near Gibraltar. It is in flagrant violation of the Convention on the High seas to which Britain is a party and which therefore is also a part of the domestic law of the United Kingdom.
The pretext offered by the British for this act of war against Iran, and Syria, if their claim is to be believed that the oil was being delivered to Syria in violation of a claimed European Union embargo against Syria, is manifestly bogus since the European Union has no legal right to impose “sanctions” or any type of embargo, or naval blockade against Syria or any other nation. That right remains in the sole jurisdiction of the United Nations Security Council, which has not authorized any such blockade. The EU edicts against Syria are therefore illegal and in international law do not exist.
The EU itself claims to justify its illegal oil embargo of Syria on Security Council Resolution 2254, and the 2012 Geneva Communiqué, both of which have the objective of seeking a peaceful political solution in Syria and do not give any EU states individually or the EU as a whole, the right to impose sanctions or any other type of warfare on Syria, nor the right to enforce them against other nations such as Iran. Therefore, the British had no justification whatsoever for their actions.
The question then becomes was this an act of piracy or an act of war and the answer is, act of war, for it is not considered piracy under the Convention if a naval vessel of one nation boards and seizes the cargo ship of another nation. Piracy exists where the boarding is for private purposes by private individuals acting in their own interest.
Article 15 of the Convention states,
(1) Any illegal acts of violence, detention or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
(a) On the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
(b) Against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
So the British action cannot be called “piracy” in a legal sense, though the term does fit the sense of what they have done and the Iranians like to use the term in their protestations against the British action. It is instead an act of war against Iran by Britain and in reality by the United States of America since it is known that the British government seizure was conducted on orders from Washington as the Iranian foreign minister, Mr. Zarif, stated on July 17th
“The UK by confiscating our ship is helping the US in imposing its illegal oil sanctions against Iran.”
Spain’s acting foreign minister, Josep Borrell, said Gibraltar had seized Grace 1 in response to a request from the US to Britain. El Pais reported that Borrell, from the Socialist Party (PSOE) said the US intelligence implied that the supertanker was in British territorial waters. The Spanish have formally complained of a British incursion into Spanish waters, but in reality they went along with the illegal action and also cited the illegal EU oil embargo on Syria.
Mad John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor confirmed the Spanish information;
“Excellent news!’ he said, “the UK has detained the supertanker Grace I laden with Iranian oil bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions. America & our allies will continue to prevent regimes in Tehran & Damascus from profiting off this illicit trade.”
The American-British action was not only a direct act of war against Iran, an attempt to bring its oil exports to zero, to break its economic back, it was also designed to be a provocation which was then used as the backdrop for further provocations against Iran, with false claims that Iran tried and failed to seize a British tanker in the Persian Gulf, bravely defended by the Royal Navy, with false claims that Iran sabotaged 4 oil tankers, coincidentally just after British naval special forces, the SBS, or Special Boat Service, arrived in the Persian Gulf, experts at among other things, naval sabotage, and with claims on July 16th that Iran has seized another oil tanker, when in fact it went to the aid of a tanker drifting in distress.
At the same time as these continuous and building provocations and pretexts for war are played out, Britain has sent 3 ships to the region including a Type 45 destroyer which is designed as an air defence platform which can track and destroy a thousand or more targets coming at it at one time. It is far superior to the US Aegis system, when the ships engines work, which tend to break down in the Persian Gulf heat and have to be replaced. But the purpose of that ship is clear, to provide effective air defence against Iranian aircraft, small boats, and supersonic, anti-ship missiles. It will be used to provide air cover for a US attack against Iran.
On July 13th the British foreign minister Hunt stated the British might release the ship and its Iranian oil cargo if Iran can prove it is not going to Syria, a demand as insulting as illegal.
Hunt told reporters on Saturday that he told Iranian foreign minister Zarif that if the U.K. could receive sufficient guarantees that that tanker was not headed for Syria “then we would be able to resolve the situation following of course due process in the Gibraltar courts.”
Iran, which in its anger has threatened to seize a British ship in retaliation, may go along with this humiliation to avert worse consequences but what “guarantees” the British will consider acceptable is anyone’s guess and having to go through British colonial courts in Gibraltar cannot give Iran any confidence that it will have its ship and oil released anytime soon.
The actions and threats of the USA against Iran, their attempt to form another collation of the criminal in the region against Iran, the hostile actions of Britain, as well as the EU, which pretends to be supporting the Iran nuclear deal, but which has done nothing to help Iran and instead, however reluctantly, helps the US conduct its war against Iran to ensure their access to middle east oil, indicate that the drive to all out war is accelerating. The pretexts are being constructed, the forces put in place, the economic and propaganda pressures applied.
Iran calls for peace; Russia, China, and Turkey call for peace. But they themselves face the same American guns. Both Russia and China have stated that Iran will not stand alone if hostile action is taken. World war threatens. Since the Americans claim the right to use nuclear weapons, whenever and in whatever circumstances they deem fit, and since Trump has several times stated Iran will cease to exist as a nation if it does not kowtow to America diktats, that Iran will be “obliterated,” a statement of intent to commit genocide against the Iranian people, we must expect the worst, and only hope that somehow, we can escape it, for the seizure of the Iranian ship, was not just an act of piracy if we wish to call it that, but the first action in what could be a world war.
(Note: this article appeared in truncated form on New Eastern Outlook, due to an error in my transmission to them. I include the entire text for those who may be interested in reading the entire article.)