By Mahmoud Hakamian
It appears that the Iranian regime is still selling its oil in violation of US sanctions, using dubious methods to disguise its illegal activity.
Roslan Khasawneh of Reuters did an in-depth investigation into this after receiving an anonymous tip-off in January about a supertanker that had gone off radar for two weeks and suddenly reappeared off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. The supertanker was pumping out fuel oil to two smaller vessels; all apparently to disguise the true source of the oil: Iran.
Khasawneh set to work to identify and monitor the vessels, using satellite data from Refinitiv and three other institutions that track the passage of ships. Though this, it was confirmed that the Grace 1 supertanker had its Automatic Identification System (transponder) turned off between November 30 and December 14, 2018, meaning its location couldn’t be tracked.
All large commercial ships are required to keep their transponders on at all time so that their location is known as this helps prevent crashes and also to track ships in need of rescue. There is no good reason to switch it off, but it’s difficult to police ships who do so when they are far away from land.
Satellite data showed the supertanker near to Iran’s Bandar Assaluyeh port and additional information show that its cargo tanks were full because the ship was sitting deeper in the water and therefore much heavier.
Shortly after, the Grace 1 met two smaller tankers just off Fujairah in the UAE, between January 16 and January 22. When the smaller ships left, data indicates that their cargos were full.
Khasawneh decided then to contact the companies managing the Grace 1 and the two smaller vehicles for more information, even using journalists in Baghdad and Tripoli in Libya to talk directly to ship managers, port officials and shipping agents.
IShips, a Singapore-based shipping services firm that manages the Grace 1 did not respond to several requests and when Khasawneh visited their offices, the company was not there. Reportedly, they had left two years ago.
The manager of one of the smaller vessels said that the oil had been loaded from Basra in Iraq, even providing a Certificate of Origin, but when Reuters tried to establish the authenticity of the document from Iraq’s state oil marketer SOMO, they found it was “faked”.
After publication of the investigation, a US State Department official said Washington was investigating and would take action against any person helping Iran evade US sanctions on oil shipments.