Group: Oil tanker affiliated with a US-traded company that receives Iranian oil

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An oil tanker owned by a major US-traded transport company appears to be picking up Iranian crude oil in a key Asian strait in violation of American sanctions, an advocacy group claims. The company allegedly involved, Euronav, said on Wednesday that it would “take appropriate action if necessary”.

Satellite photos and sea location data analyzed by The Associated Press placed the Belgian-flagged crude oil tanker Oceania alongside the Vietnamese-flagged tanker Abyss for a possible ship-to-ship transfer. The group United Against Nuclear Iran has warned Oceania’s owner, Antwerp-based Euronav, that it believes the Abyss attacked Iranian crude oil in late February.

Suspicion comes as Iran remains able to trade its crude oil at sea, even as American sanctions come back into effect after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the Tehran nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 . Now, almost five years later, Iran is enriching uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels while you continue to sell its oil and the supply of bomb-carrying drones to Russia to fuel Moscow’s war against Ukraine.

Brian Gallagher, a spokesman for Euronav, told AP in a statement that the company has “taken and always has taken all appropriate measures and protocols to ensure we comply with all regulations”.

“All charges in our system met these requirements,” Gallagher wrote. “Euronav will continue to monitor all specific shipments and take appropriate action where necessary.”

Gallagher said the Oceania is a storage ship and the cargo from the Abyss is for “a third party, NOT directly with Euronav”. He added that if the claim that the oil is Iranian is proven, “the cargo will be returned to the third party that delivered it.”

Euronav is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Abyss manager did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Planet Labs PBC satellite imagery and data from the vessels’ automatic identification system trackers brought the vessels into the Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest waterways between Indonesia and Malaysia, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Tugboats pushed the Abyss toward Oceania in a picture Tuesday.

Tracking data from showed the ships side by side on Wednesday. At sea, oil tankers can funnel crude oil among themselves in a ship-to-ship transfer, where boats are usually in a similar position.

In a letter Tuesday to Euronav, United Against Nuclear Iran said it believes the Abyss has taken in crude oil in the Iranian port of Bandar Mashahr, some 600 kilometers (370 miles) southwest of the Persian Gulf capital Tehran. The Abyss had turned off its AIS tracker on Feb 18 when it was aimed at Bandar Mashahr.

Ships should keep their AIS trackers on for security reasons, but ships suspected of transporting Iranian crude routinely turn theirs off to hide their movements from the international sanctions Tehran faces.

A ship matching the size and characteristics of the Abyss was seen docked in Bandar Mashahr on Feb. 22 in a satellite photo analyzed by AP. United Against Nuclear Iran said it found a satellite image that it believed showed the Abyss at the port in the same position as the day before.

“Any other indications of tampering with AIS transponders should be considered red flags of potentially illegal activity,” the New York-based group said in its letter, signed by Mark Wallace, a former US ambassador to the United Nations.

The Abyss is managed by PetroVietnam Transportation of Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnamese ships have been suspected of smuggling Iranian crude oil in the past. Smugglers typically misidentify where the crude oil they are transporting comes from to avoid suspicion.

The Iranian mission to the United Nations and US Treasury Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

This is not the first time a US-affiliated company has been linked to an Iranian oil transfer at sea. In February 2022, United Against Nuclear Iran warned Los Angeles-based private equity firm Oaktree Capital Management that it believed a company tanker had picked up Iranian crude oil.

The US government said illicit Iranian oil revenues fund the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, an expeditionary force believed to be working abroad in countries including Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen to help Iran-allied militias to support.


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