Demetri Dollis, the former Victorian Labor politician, and later deputy minister for foreign affairs under George Papandreou’s socialist PASOK government in Greece, just concluded the successful negotiation for the release of two Greek oil tankers, held by Iran.
The Greek shipping ministry confirmed on Wednesday that the vessels had left Iran.
The Delta Poseidon, and Prudent Warrior, along with their sailors were seized in May in a helicopter raid by Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
“Their seizure came after Greece agreed to hold the tanker until the American claim about its illegality was examined by the Greek Courts, including Arios Pagos, Greece’s High Court,” Dollis said to Neos Kosmos from Athens.
“It took months of very delicate and respectful negotiations,” Dollis said.
“Lana, the Iranian flagged tanker was on its way to the Middle East when it broke down and was exported to the nearest port Piraeus, the US said it carried an illegal cargo of Russian oil, so Athens held the tanker.
“The case was going to courts, and in reaction the Iranians took control of two Greek tankers,” he said.
Dollis said that once the Greek courts concluded that “Lana’s cargo was not illegal oil from Russia the Greeks were ready to release it.
Prime minister Mitsotakis, from the conservative New Democracy Greek government, asked Dollis to intervene as the former politician has, since the late 1990s, developed a reputation as a successful negotiator in dangerous situations.
Dollis said that the Greek prime minister exhibited “intelligence and made a non-partisan decision for the sake of the Greek tankers, and their crew held in Iran.”
“Greece was ready to release their tanker, Lana, months ago, but Iran, holding two Greek oil tankers has an incredible cost in the millions of Euros.
“Greece is a maritime nation, which has lots of tankers floating around the world.”
“There are over 100 Greek tankers going through the Persian Gulf at any time and we cannot afford to have conflict with Iran,” Dollis told Neos Kosmos.
Dollis emphasised that the Greek mariners, were treated with respect by the Iranian authorities.
“We exchanged one lot of crews a month ago but we needed to find a solution,” he said.
“The purpose of the negotiations was to find a solution, we signed a memorandum of understanding to bring our relations back to international maritime law,” Dollis said.
The Greek deputy minister for foreign affairs, Andreas Katsaniotis signed the memorandum with Iran’s officials.
The Greek ministry for foreign affairs posted a statement on Wednesday saying that the memorandum signed by the two countries, “will foster the cooperation necessary to improve maritime security.”
This is not the first time Dollis has been brought in to negotiate in perilous situations.
In 1999 on behalf of former Liberal prime minister the late Malcolm Fraser – then the head of the charity Care Australia – Dollis was asked to negotiate the release of two Australians caught up in the Balkan War by Serbia and he succeeded.
The adroit negotiator was later asked to go into Afghanistan to negotiate the release of a Greek national.
Asked by Neos Kosmos what the core of a successful negotiation is Dollis said, “Patience, patience, patience.”
“Time passes buy, you need stamina and patience, you cannot afford to get angry,” he said.
In Afghanistan where he was negotiating the release for a Greek national in captivity for nine months Dollis said he spent “two months in Afghanistan waiting for the Taliban to contact me.”
“When you negotiate something not covered by international law, patience and experience are vital,” said Dollis to Neos Kosmos.
“Respect is also very important, you have to have an honest name, you cannot lie, you cannot play games, it’s your reputation on the line as well as the lives of others.”
“You work on good faith and keep praying nothing that will happen to destroy that faith,” Dollis said.
Ship tracking data showed the vessels, Delta Poseidon and Prudent Warrior, were underway from Iran. Delta tanker is sailing to the United Arab Emirates port of Fujairah for inspections before returning to Greece, its original destination.