Why Iran renamed the supertanker 'Grace 1' the 'Adrian Darya-1'

Iran rarely misses an opportunity to send a message, but this one is more opaque than most

Walkers pass near the ruins of Milecastle 39 on Roman Hadrian's Wall, once the northern frontier of Rome's empire from Barbarian tribes. Hadrian's Wall (Latin: Vallum Aelium) was a stone and timber fortification built by the Roman Empire across the width of what is now northern England. Begun in AD 122, during the rule of emperor Hadrian, it was built as a military fortification though gates through the wall served as customs posts to allow trade and levy taxation. The 4.5m high Wall was 80 Roman miles (73.5 miles, 117km) long and so important was it to secure its length that up to 10% of the Roman army total force were stationed here. Tough walkers generally take 7 days to trek its coast-to-coast length. | Location: Haltwhistle, England, UK.  (Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)
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When the Iranian supertanker Grace 1 was preparing to leave the UK territory of Gibraltar where it had been detained on suspicion of supplying oil to Syria, it changed its name and flag.

After the tanker was seized by British Royal Marines in July on suspicion of breaching EU sanctions to transport oil to Syria, Panama struck the vessel from its shipping list and banned it from sailing under the blue, red and white checkboard.

As the captain hoisted the new Iranian ensign in preparation to leave port over the weekend, painters hung over the side hastily covering over the large white letters of Grace 1 and replacing it with Adrian Darya-1.

A crew member takes pictures with a mobile phone on Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1, previously named Grace 1, as it sits anchored after the Supreme Court of the British territory lifted its detention order, in the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain, August 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The name doesn’t have an immediately obvious connotation even though Iran rarely misses an opportunity to send a thinly veiled message or imbue some symbolic meaning into their actions.

But on Tuesday, Iranian media spelt out exactly what the message behind the Grace 1's new name was for those who had missed it.

The Adrian Darya-1 simply translates as "Adrian Sea-1". 

For those for whom the symbolism still isn’t exactly leaping out, the state-run Fars news agency said that roots of the word Adrian is in the Greek word ‘Adrianus’ or ‘Hadrianus’.

The most famous Hadrianus – or to most English speakers just plain Hadrian – was the Roman emperor in the second century AD notable for his wall, the agency explains.

Hadrian’s Wall is a defensive fortification built in 122 AD that runs from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth in the north of England.

It was built at the very edge of the Roman Empire to keep out the Britons and Picts – Celtic confederate tribes from northern England and Scotland.

So, 1,897 years after Hadrian’s Wall was built across the north of England, Iran renames their ship in its honour.

According to Fars, the reason is clear: "Adrian Darya-1 was a wall that protected Iran's interests against Britain and was one of the best names to be given to this giant oil tanker after its victory over the West."

But what Iran might have forgotten in their haste to name the vessel is that Hadrian’s Wall was largely abandoned after the emperor’s death 16 years later and left to crumble.

Stretches of the 117-kilometre fortification are still there – today it is popular with walkers – but much of the stone was stolen over the years and reused to build other things.