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US Threat Still Looms as Iran Tanker Sets to Leave Gibraltar

 Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo says Iran-operated "Grace 1" supertanker has been allowed to leave Friday but a last-minute legal bid by the US to seize the vessel could still end up back in court, according to Press T.V.

"It could go back to the court absolutely," Picardo said Friday, speaking with BBC Radio.

He said a decision on the matter would be made "objectively and independently" by related authorities and could then "be subject to once again the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar".

His remarks came even as a senior Iranian shipping official said Friday the tanker, released by Gibraltar authorities after being held since July 4, is preparing to set sail into the Mediterranean.

 The Grace 1 will be renamed and switch to the Iranian flag for its onward journey, the deputy head of Iran's Ports and Maritime Organisation, Jalil Eslami, said.

The ship, the official said, was of Russian origin and Panama-flagged and was carrying two million barrels of Iranian oil.

Picardo also stressed that the vessel was free to set sail on Friday, despite the looming US plea.

"She is able to leave as soon as she organizes the logistics necessary in order to sail a ship of that size wherever it's going next," he said. "Could be today, could be tomorrow."

On Thursday, Gibraltar's Supreme Court pushed forward with the vessel's release after throwing out Washington's last-minute request to withhold the tanker.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi, however, said Tehran had not given any assurances that the ship would not go to Syria.

"What we have announced was only the fact that the Grace 1 ship never intended to go to Syria in the first place," he said on Friday.

Tehran stressed that the issue would have still been irrelevant to other countries even if the ship had intended to go to Syria, Mousavi added.

"This is legal practice and is not related to any third party. The Islamic Republic of Iran can sell oil to any old and new customer it wills," he said, adding that "We will support Syria in all fields including oil and energy."

Shipping official Eslami said the vessel is refueling and preparing to leave Gibraltar. Washington threatened to impose a visa ban on the crew of the tanker.