US sanctions Iranian oil tanker, its captain for ‘selling illicit oil to Syria’

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The United States on Friday sanctioned Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1 and its captain for enabling Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps to “ship and transfer large volumes of oil… to fund the regime’s malign activities and propagate terrorism.”

This comes shortly after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US had reliable information that the tanker, which is carrying 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil, was headed to Tartus, Syria.

Pompeo had earlier said that if the tanker went to Syria, Washington would take every action it could consistent with US sanctions.

When the ship was released off Gibraltar in mid-August after a five-week standoff, Iran assured Britain that the cargo was not headed to Syria.

The latest twist sets it in the direction of Syria, and raises the possibility that a ship-to-ship transfer of cargo may be attempted once it nears Lebanon’s coast.

Treasury said the Adrian Darya’s captain, Akhilesh Kumar, is also sanctioned under the order, which generally prohibits dealings with the blocked property by US persons.

“Anyone providing support to the Adrian Darya 1 risks being sanctioned. The path to relief is to change course and not allow the IRGC-QF to profit from illicit oil sales,” said Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

Faced with the US warnings, the tanker has been bouncing around the Mediterranean.

Turkey said on Friday that an Iranian oil tanker at the center of a confrontation between Washington and Tehran was headed to Lebanon’s waters.

According to Refinitiv tracking data, the Adrian Darya, formerly called Grace 1, after changing course several times headed on Friday for Turkey’s Iskenderun port, 200 km (124 miles) north of Syria’s Baniyas refinery, the tanker’s suspected original destination.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier on Friday that despite the tracking data, the tanker was “for sure” not going to Turkish ports but rather towards Lebanese waters.

Earlier on Friday, the minister told Reuters the ship was headed to Lebanon’s “main” port. “I didn’t mean that this tanker is going to a Lebanese port, but (rather) according to the information coordinates it is heading to the territorial waters of the country,” he later told reporters at an Oslo forum.

“It doesn’t mean that it is going to reach a Lebanese port,” he said of the tanker that was carrying 2 million barrels of oil when released at Gibraltar. “We are monitoring it very closely.”

In response, Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said in a separate interview: “We have not been informed of the Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya heading (here).”

Western threats

The apparent confusion underlines the risk of reprisal that countries face taking in the tanker, which at 1400 GMT was headed east toward the channel separating Turkey and Cyprus after a series of turns in the Mediterranean Sea, according to tracking data.

The ship had been detained off Gibraltar due to British suspicion that it was carrying Iranian oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.

The United States says the tanker is controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, which it considers a terrorist group.

“What’s important here is that it is carrying oil that enables the terrorism of (President Bashar al-Assad’s) regime,” a State Department spokesperson said. The Trump administration has conveyed “our strong position via diplomatic channels to all ports in the Mediterranean that should be forewarned about facilitating” the tanker, said the spokesperson, who declined to be named.

The US Treasury Department on Friday blacklisted the ship and sanctioned its captain.

Washington last year pulled out of a nuclear deal with Iran aimed at blocking its path to a nuclear bomb, and has ramped up sanctions to pressure and isolate Tehran. Iran denies ever having sought to build or acquire a nuclear weapon.

Cavusoglu told Reuters that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan spoke about the ship’s coordinates with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday. In a readout of the call, London said the leaders agreed it was vital to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon but did not mention the tanker.

Options ahead

Shipping sources said the tanker would need to conduct a ship-to-ship transfer before being able to enter a port such as Beirut’s, which does not have deep water facilities necessary for fully laden supertankers.

It could potentially discharge its cargo offshore towards Lebanon’s Tripoli port further north, which is closer to Syria’s coastline between Lebanon and Turkey, they said. There is a ship-to-ship transfer anchorage outside of Tripoli port limits.

Beirut and Tripoli ports have both served as transhipment hubs for cargoes bound for Syria in recent years during Syria’s conflict.

An Iranian government spokesman was quoted on Monday as saying Iran had sold the oil aboard the tanker and that the vessel’s owner, whose identity he did not disclose, would decide its destination.

After its release at Gibraltar, the ship stated that its destination was the Greek port of Kalamata, then Turkey’s Mersin. On Thursday, it abruptly changed course, heading first west then south, away from the Turkish coast.

While west of Cyprus on Friday morning, it did a similar maneuver, doubling back on itself.

Agencies

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