Note: When the US recently seized oil from three tankers it claimed were Iranian, Iran denied the oil tankers and oil were theirs. Now, more of the story about the US piracy is beginning to come out as the UAE, Oman and UK told a US court that they hold title to the seized vessels and the oil. – KZ
Claimants emerge for US-seized Iran fuel cargoes.
Shippers based in the UAE, Oman and the UK told a US court today they hold title to the cargoes seized by the US aboard four tankers that allegedly were transporting petroleum products from Iran to Venezuela.
The US Justice Department on 14 August said it took custody of 1.16mn bl of Iranian product aboard four Greek-owned, Liberia-flagged tankers — the Bella, the Bering, the Luna and the Pandi. The vessels were carrying cargoes — interchangeably described by US attorneys as gasoil, gasoline and refined oil — from Iran to Venezuela, the US said.
But UAE-based Mobin International in a filing today with the US District Court for the District of Columbia said it purchased all the “petroleum-product” cargoes, chartered the vessels and was transporting the fuel to Trinidad and Tobago, for sale to customers in Peru and Colombia. Mobin said it was the owner and shipper of 65,545 metric tonnes the Bella and the Bering. UK-based Oman Fuel said it owned 39,519 t aboard the Luna and the Pandi and Oman-based Sohar Fuel claimed title to 26,059 t aboard the Luna. The intended receiver of the cargoes was UAE-based Citi Energy FZC, according to the court filing. The stated volumes amount to 1.11mn bl if the cargoes were gasoline.
The three companies said they had the right to “title, possession and control” of the cargoes.
Over 1.5mn bl of refined products was shipped from Trinidad to Colombia in the last year, and only 26,000 bl went from Trinidad to Peru, Vortexa data show.
Today’s filing adds a new twist to what the Justice Department described as the first seizure of Iranian cargoes by the US since the re-imposition of sanctions in 2018 banning Iran’s exports of crude and products.
The US version of the story is that Tehran used Mobin, Oman Fuel and Sohar Fuel as front companies to mask the transportation of fuel from Iran to Venezuela. The Justice Department on 28 August even took over the websites used by the three companies — the front page of the three websites now carries a “This domain has been seized” notice by the US attorneys. But neither company appears on the US Treasury Department’s sanctions list.
A US-based attorney for the three shippers was not immediately available to comment.
Washington claimed jurisdiction over the cargoes by stating that the ultimate beneficiary of all Iranian oil exports is Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a paramilitary group the US labels a “terrorist organization.” The alleged link allows US prosecutors to tap counter-terrorism authorities in pursuit of Iranian cargoes.
Tehran labeled the US seizure of the cargoes as “piracy” but said Iran no longer held title to the cargoes aboard the tankers — “fuel was sold F.O.B. Persian Gulf,” Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said via Twitter.
Iran in May-June used tankers owned by national company NIOC to deliver five cargoes of gasoline and alkalyte to Venezuela, catching the US by surprise and helping to temporarily alleviate a severe gasoline shortage in Venezuela. Washington subsequently vowed to disrupt further deliveries of Iranian fuel to Venezuela.
US agents have used ship-to-ship transfers to take custody of the cargoes aboard the four tankers — the same method of masking cargo movements for which Washington has criticized Iran and Venezuela.
“Contents of some Iranian fuel was transferred from commercial tankers to our possession through judicial process,” the Justice Department said, confirming the use of ship-to-ship transfers.
None of the vessels has used AIS transponders in months, shipping data show.