ATHENS – Although Greece approved release of oil on an Iranian-flagged tanker ship that was confiscated by the United States in April, two Greek ships held by Iran, and their crews, are still being detained.
In mid-August the newspaper Kathimerini, citing unnamed diplomatic sources, said that the Greek ships would be released but Iran is still keeping them hostage, it was said, the reasons unclear.
The Iranians, playing hardball, are reportedly trying to set unspecified terms and conditions for the release of the vessel and crews, seemingly tied to the Iranian ship getting away from Greece.
That’s despite some 100,000 tons of oil originally seized by the Greek authorities at the request of the US being returned last week to the tanks of the Iranian-owned ship Lana after international drama for weeks.
Now the Greek Coast Guard was said to be optimistic that a solution was at hand, which is what the report two weeks earlier said before that didn’t materialize either, the incident beginning in April.
The two Greek-owned Suezmaxes, the Prudent Warrior and the Delta Poseidon, were detained by armed Iranian forces at the end of May, while one was sailing in the Persian Gulf in international waters and the other near the Iranian coast.
The ships were taken in retaliation for Greece allowing the US to get its hands on the oil that was aboard the Lana, which was seized after suffering a mechanical failure at the Karystos anchorage coming from Turkey.
While the basic conditions set by Iran for the release of the Greek tankers was met by Greece, they and the seamen are still being kept, apparently because Iran is waiting for the Lana to leave Greece and hit international waters.
Another source, also unidentified, told the newspaper that Iran wants Greece to sign an agreement not seek compensation against Iran for holding the Greek vessels and wants other stipulations.
Other reports indicate that the Lana suffered mechanical failure and required tugboat assistance, with companies, however, reluctant to get involved fearing possible US sanctions, the paper said.
About 50 Filipino and Greek seamen are still being held on the two Greek ships in Bandar Abbas, detained since late May when a diplomatic tug o’ war developed, involving the US.
The Greek judiciary decided that the ship and its oil cargo must be returned to Iran – after Iran seized the Greek ships as apparent political hostages to force release of its oil supplies on the ship the US asked to be detained.
That led to some 56,000 tons of Iranian oil transferred from the Greek-owned tanker Ice Energy, which had been chartered by the US authorities when the cargo was initially seized, to the Iranian-flagged tanker Lana in Piraeus.
Iran had previously warned of “punitive action” against Greece over the case, which has strained relations between the two countries after the US hired the Greek ship to get the oil from the Lana tanker, anchored off Greece.
The Lana, formerly the Pegas, had been expected to sail to the United States before Greece’s Supreme Court ruled the cargo should be returned to Iran, the Reuters news agency said earlier.
Claire Jungman, Chief of staff with U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, which monitors Iran-related tanker traffic, said Greece “had an opportunity to take a stance.”
“Instead, this decision by the Greek courts tells Iran that there are no repercussions for its hijacking of tankers,” Jungman told Reuters.