LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A leading Catholic seafarers’ charity says it is hopeful that an Iranian-held British ship will soon be released, after an Iranian tanker was released by the UK territory of Gibraltar.

The release of Grace 1 on Thursday over last-minute objections from the United States, could potentially ease tensions between London and Tehran, which still holds the Stena Impero, a British-flagged vessel.

“Whilst Iran has claimed the detention of the Grace 1 was not connected to the seizure of the Stena Impero, this has been widely questioned.  Stella Maris has been concerned that the crew of the Stena Impero, who had been going about their professional duties, have been detained against their will with little evidence against them,” Stella Maris (Apostleship of the Sea) said in a statement.

Stella Maris (Apostleship of the Sea) is an agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of England & Wales and Scotland which offers pastoral care to seafarers in Britain.

Grace 1 was seized on July 4 in a British Royal Navy operation in the Strait of Gibraltar. Shortly after that, Iran seized the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which remains held by the Islamic Republic. Analysts have said the release of Grace 1 by Gibraltar could see the Stena Impero go free.

In a statement following the Gibraltar decision on Grace 1, Britain’s Foreign Office warned Iran to abide by the assurances that led to the release. The U.K. also insisted that there should be “no comparison or linkage” between enforcement of sanctions and “Iran’s unacceptable and illegal seizure of, and attacks on, commercial shipping vessels in the Strait of Hormuz.”

In past weeks, the Persian Gulf region has seen six attacks on oil tankers that the U.S. has blamed on Iran and the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone by Iranian forces. Iran denied it was behind the tanker attacks, although it has seized other tankers.

John Green, Director of Development for Stella Maris (Apostleship of the Sea) said the organization has been “hugely concerned” for the welfare of the crews of both Stena Impero and Grace 1, as well as “their wives and children.”

The charity recently published an article in its magazine offering guidance for seafarers on what to do when facing criminal charges or an investigation by the authorities.

This article used material from the Associated Press.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome

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