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US blacklists Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya in Mediterranean

In this file photo, an Iranian flag flutters on board the Adrian Darya oil tanker, formerly known as Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar. The United States on Friday sanctioned an Iranian oil tanker previously held for weeks by Gibraltar and released despite Washington’s efforts to keep it detained. – AFP

WASHINGTON: The
United States has blacklisted the Iranian tanker Adrian Darya, saying it had
“reliable information” it was transporting oil to Syria in defiance
of wide-ranging sanctions on the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. Previously known as
Grace 1, the vessel was seized in July by British Royal Marines and held in
Gibraltar for six weeks on suspicion it was delivering oil for Tehran’s ally
Damascus.

The oil tanker at
the center of a dispute between Washington and Tehran is no longer heading
towards Turkey’s Iskenderun port and now has no specified destination,
Refinitiv ship tracking data showed yesterday. Refinitiv tracking data
registered the ship’s destination as “for order”, after previously
listing it as Iskenderun. “For order” usually means a vessel is
available for charter.

Iranian Foreign
Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States on Twitter of engaging
in “piracy and threats” to stop Tehran selling oil to traditional
clients.

The British
territory released the ship-despite US protests-after it said it had received
written assurances from Iran that the vessel would not head for countries under
European Union sanctions. Tehran later denied it had made any promises about
the ship’s destination. “We have reliable information that the tanker is
underway and headed to Tartus, Syria,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
said in a tweet Friday.

The US Department
of Treasury said the vessel was “blocked property” under an anti-terrorist
order, and “anyone providing support to the Adrian Darya 1 risks being
sanctioned”. The ship’s captain, Akhilesh Kumar, was also blacklisted
under the order. Since its release from Gibraltar, the Adrian Darya has been
bouncing around the Mediterranean, its every move followed with intense
speculation. The vessel was in waters north of Cyprus as of 0745 GMT, according
to the MarineTraffic tracking website.

Lebanon had
earlier dismissed Turkish claims that it would receive the ship, which has a
cargo of 2.1 million barrels worth around $140 million. While Iran has denied
selling the oil to Damascus, experts said the likely scenario was for a
ship-to-ship transfer, with a Syrian port as the final destination.

Maritime traffic
monitors had shown that the Adrian Darya’s latest listed destinations, which
are not necessarily the next approved port of call, were in Turkey. After
tracking sites showed Mersin as its destination, it then switched to
Iskenderun, prompting a reaction from Turkey’s foreign minister Friday.
“This tanker is not heading actually to Iskenderun (in Turkey), this
tanker is heading to Lebanon,” Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a visit to
Oslo.

Lebanon swiftly
dismissed the scenario, stressing that it never buys crude oil because it does
not have refineries, and adding that it had not received any docking requests
from the tanker. Iran said Monday it had “sold the oil” aboard the
tanker and that the owner will decide the destination.

It did not
identify the buyer or say whether the oil had been sold before or after the
tanker’s detention in the Strait of Gibraltar. It also said it could not name
the actual destination due to “economic terrorism” by the United
States and its sanctions on Iran’s oil sales. In July, Iran’s Islamic
Revolutionary Guard Corps impounded a British-flagged tanker in strategic Gulf
waters. Britain called it a tit-for-tat move but Tehran denied any connection.

‘Aimlessly
moseying’

The Adrian Darya
1 set sail for the eastern Mediterranean three days after it was released.
According to maritime traffic monitoring websites, the huge tanker has changed
direction multiple times, following no apparent logic. The specialized
TankerTrackers social media account noted Friday after the vessel listed
Iskenderun as its destination that little could be read into it.

“Consider
this just a record update rather than anything substantial. We believe a
transfer is still a few days away. Turkey will not import this oil,” it
said. It earlier described it as “aimlessly moseying around the Med”.
Tensions between arch-enemies Iran and the US have soared ever since Washington
stepped up its campaign of “maximum pressure” against Tehran and
reimposed sanctions after leaving the landmark 2015 nuclear deal last year.
Syria, which has ports on the Mediterranean, is also under a raft of US and
European sanctions over its eight-year-old conflict. -Agencies

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