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The Spice must flow!

Iran Crisis - August 2020 - Tanker Seizures

The Bolivarian Republic, which sits on the world's biggest crude reserves, has been experiencing acute gasoline shortages and has become increasingly reliant on energy imports. The national refinery network has been operating at a roughly 10-percent capacity because of US sanctions and underinvestment. The country's state oil company, PDVSA, had previously swapped crude exports for fuel, but Washington virtually shut down that lifeline by imposing sanctions on Russia's Rosneft and pressuring PDVSA's major trade partners in India, Italy and Spain to stop exports.

Iran’s fuel supply to Venezuela has sharply irked the US as the oil sectors of both countries are subject to draconian American sanctions. A US official said in May that President Donald Trump’s administration was considering responses, prompting Tehran to warn of retaliatory measures if Washington causes any problem for the tankers.

In response, President Rouhani said his country is always entitled to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and warned that if his country's oil tankers in the Caribbean or anywhere in the world get into trouble by the Americans, Tehran will definitely retaliate. “Although some of the US measures have created unacceptable conditions in different parts of the world, we will not be the initiator of tension and clash,” Rouhani said in a phone call with the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in May.

Referring to the American moves in the Caribbean, he reiterated, “If our oil tankers face problems in the Caribbean Sea or anywhere in the world by the Americans, they will face problems reciprocally.” We see the conditions today more apt for cooperation, especially given the outbreak of this disease; but the US continues its incorrect decisions and inhumane behaviors, the president noted.

The Pakistani Navy reportedly seized an Iranian oil tanker in the port of Karachi upon the request of the United States, the Fars News Agency reported 10 August 2020, citing Pakistani Senator Rehman Malik, secretary of the senate’s internal affairs committee. “We have warned against the transfer of Iranian oil to Pakistan. This is an important international issue and will lead to pressure on Pakistan,” Malik said, noting that the transfer of Iranian oil to Pakistan would be a violation of Islamabad’s embargo and sanctions against Tehran.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Seyyed Abbas Mousavi was asked about the news on the seizure of an Iranian tanker in Pakistan, Mousavi said: “As far as we have checked, nothing has been officially announced to Iran in this regard and we have not received any official news about the seizure of the Iranian ship, but from relevant departments, we are following up and receiving the news, and after determining its accuracy, we will announce the accurate information. We have not been informed by the Pakistani authorities yet".

Product tanker WILA was boarded by Iranian Special Forces from helicopter in the afternoon Aug 12, in international waters off Khor Fakkan Anchorage, UAE, Gulf of Oman, according to USA Navy and Gulf media reports. Tanker is probably, deployed in bunkering operations in UAE waters. Tanker AIS was off during some 2 hours, then reappeared, as of 0430 UTC Aug 13 she was either cruising at slow speed, or drifting, north of Khor Fakkan Anchorage.

Iranian forces approached several vessels and boarded Liberian-flagged tanker Wila as it was approaching the Khor Fakkan anchorage in the UAE. The marine security firm Dryad Global reported the incident while also saying according to its analysis that, “Iran’s actions today do not raise the overall risk posed by vessels within either the Gulf of Oman or Strait of Hormuz.” In an update to its initial report, using data from TankerTracker, Dryad however later added details suggesting that Iranian forces also approached the Marshal Island flagged MT Freud and the Panama flagged MT Chemway Arrow prior to boarding the Wila. This evening the U.S Central Command released a video of the boarding saying that, “In international waters, Iranian forces, including two ships and an Iranian Sea King helicopter, overtook and boarded a ship called the Wila.”

The Iranian government and official media did not immediately comment on the incident. A US defence official told Agence France-Presse on 13 August that the Iranians released the vessel after holding it for four to five hours.

By 12 August 2020 the US had seized four Iranian tankers on the high seas allegedly loaded with Iranian petroleum in violation of US sanctions. The four vessels were then en route to Houston, Texas, a major petroleum port. The tankers Luna, Pandi, Bering and Bella were all seized without the use of military force in recent days. The effort was reportedly motivated by the arrival of five Iranian fuel tankers in Venezuela earlier this year, which delivered 1.5 million barrels of gasoline to the country, which is similarly placed under restrictive economic sanctions by the United States. Two of the ships just seized, the Bering and the Bella, were previously intimidated into canceling their shipments to Venezuela in the aftermath of the flotilla. Both ships are registered in Liberia but owned by Greek shippers.

The seizure was enabled by a civil-forfeiture. US federal prosecutors filed suit 02 July 2020 to seize four tankers-worth of gasoline Iran is sailing to Venezuela, the latest salvo in the administration’s effort to stifle flows of goods and money helping to keep two of its top foes in power. By filing a civil-forfeiture complaint, U.S. prosecutors aim to not only prevent delivery of the Iranian fuel to Venezuela, which began the journey last month, but also deprive Tehran of the revenues from the cargo and deter future shipments. Zia Faruqui, the assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia who filed the complaint.

A forfeiture complaint and warrant were filed July 2 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging that all petroleum-product cargo aboard the Bella with international maritime organization (IMO) number 9208124, the Bering with IMO number 9149225, the Pandi with IMO number 9105073, and the Luna with IMO number 9208100 are subject to forfeiture based on the terrorism forfeiture statute. United States District Judge James E. Boasberg issued a warrant to seize all Iranian gasoline on these four vessels, based on a probable cause showing of forfeitability. The warrant commands the property to be brought to the sole jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The documents allege a scheme involving multiple parties affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to covertly ship Iranian gasoil, obtained via ship-to-ship transfers, to Venezuela. The shipments are alleged to be a source of influence for the IRGC, a designated foreign terrorist organization. The documents allege that profits from petroleum sales support the IRGC’s full range of nefarious activities, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, support for terrorism, and a variety of human rights abuses, at home and abroad.

Iranian envoy in Venezuela Hojjat Soltani strongly rejected a Wall Street Journal report claiming that the US has seized four Iranian tankers, while another official in similar remarks said neither the ship nor the cargo belong to Iran. “Another lie and psychological war from the Imperialist propaganda apparatus of the US,” wrote Soltani on 14 August 2020, adding, “Neither are the tankers Iranian nor do their owner or flags have anything to do with Iran.” He noted that terrorist Trump cannot make up for his humiliation and defeat against the great Iranian nation through false propaganda.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 11:38:50 ZULU