US threatens to revoke visas of released Iranian tanker crew, including 24 Indians

Washington D.C: The United States on Thursday (local time) threatened to impose a visa ban on the crew members, including 24 Indians, of the Iranian oil tanker that was released by Gibraltar despite Washington's request not to do so.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said that the M/T Grace I was assisting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC )-- which the US designates as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) -- by transporting oil from Iran to Syria when it was detained last month.

"Crew members of vessels assisting the IRGC by transporting oil from Iran may be ineligible for visas or admission to the United States under the terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds in Section 212(a)(3)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act," Ortagus said in a statement.

"The maritime community should be aware that the US government intends to revoke visas held by members of such crews," the statement read.

"In the case of the M/T Grace I, we will continue to act consistent with our existing policies concerning those who provide material support to the IRGC," the spokesperson added.

The oil tanker was seized off the shore of Gibraltar, a semi-autonomous British territory, by British Royal Marines last month. The UK alleged that Iran breached sanctions by exporting crude oil to Syria.

Twenty-four Indian crew members were also onboard Grace 1. In retaliation, Tehran quickly seized the British-flagged tanker, Steno Impero, in the Strait of Hormuz.

However, there is no official confirmation whether Iran will also release the Steno Impero. All 24 crew members have also been released, confirmed the Indian government. The Gibraltar government, early in the morning, said that the United States had applied to seize Grace 1.

A court in Gibraltar had ruled last month that detained Iranian vessel can be held for an additional 30 days, a period which ended on Sunday. The next hearing was scheduled for Thursday morning.

However, when the hearing started, a Gibraltar official revealed the US request. The hearing was adjourned until later in the day. Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who himself is facing sanctions from the US, has termed Washington's request as a "piracy attempt".