Iran ‘uses’ aging ships to avoid oil sanctions

Iran ‘uses’ aging ships to avoid oil sanctions

Iran ‘uses’ aging ships to avoid oil sanctions

AP Photo

Iran is using old tankers saved from the scrap yard by foreign middlemen to ship oil to China in ways that avoid Western sanctions, say officials involved with the sanctions.

The officials, from states imposing sanctions on Iran to pressure the country into curbing its nuclear program, said the tankers, worth little more than scrap value, were a new way for Iran to keep its oil exports flowing by exploiting the limitations on Western powers’ ability to make sanctions stick worldwide.

Officials showed Reuters shipping documents to support their allegations that eight ships, each of which can carry close to a day’s worth of Iran’s pre-sanctions exports, have loaded Iranian oil. Publicly available tracking data are consistent with those documents and allegations. “The tankers have been used for Iranian crude,” an official said. “They are part of Iran’s sanctions-busting strategy.”

Dimitris Cambis, the Greek businessman who bought the ships – eight very large crude carriers – last year to carry Middle East crude to Asia, flatly denied doing any business with Tehran or running clandestine shipments of its oil to China. Cambis said he had not been involved in shipping before but had bought the tankers as part of a new venture he runs from the United Arab Emirates. He denied trading with Iran, though he has contacts there from his previous work in the oil industry.

He denied that his vessels had loaded oil from Iran while at anchor in the Gulf. Known as ship-to-ship transfers (STS), such movements are hard to track as crews can switch off tracking beacons or not update their recorded positions for periods to conceal that one vessel had come alongside another.

Cambis also explained a stop in Iran by one of his tankers as having been only for an emergency repair, not to load oil cargo.

All tankers involved

“There is no Iranian vessel that has done any STS with us,” Cambis said in response to the officials’ allegations that oil was taken from Iranian tankers owned by Tehran shipping group NITC. The officials involved with sanctions dispute his account and showed documents detailing several ship-to-ship loadings. They said all eight of the tankers were involved in trade with Iran.

In one instance in early December, an NITC tanker named Marigold loaded Iranian crude onto the Leycothea, one of Cambis’s eight ships, while both were anchored off the UAE emirate of Sharjah. Public tracking showed Cambis’s tanker made a call about a month later to Zhanjiang oil terminal in China. Loading at sea lets vessels pick up a cargo without visiting the country of origin of the crude. Officials allege the tankers are also used as offshore storage for Iranian oil, which can then be transferred onward to other ships, concealing its origins.

Almaty talks underway

Meanwhile, world powers exchanged offers with Iran yesterday in two-day long talks in Kazakhstan aimed at breaking a decade of deadlock over Tehran’s nuclear drive despite low expectations of any deal being reached.

“We have come here with a revised offer and we have come to engage with Iran in a meaningful way,” EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, who negotiates with Iran on behalf of the world powers, said. She said the ambition was that “we see progress by the end of the meeting.”

Global powers are offering Iran permission to resume its gold and precious metals trade as well as some international banking activities that are currently under sanctions.

An Iranian source said Tehran had come up with a counter-offer whose final nature would be determined by terms posed by the international powers. “Which version we present depends on what the 5+1 (world powers) put forward. Our offer will be of the same weight as their offer,” a source from the Iranian delegation said.

The source stressed “there was no question” of Tehran closing the Fordo plant where uranium is being enriched to up to 20 percent, a level seen as being within the technical reach of weapons-grade matter. But Iran could envisage halting the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent if all international sanctions against it were dropped, including U.N. Security Council measures, the source said.

Compiled from Reuters and AFP stories by the Daily News staff.