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Despite US sanctions, countries have taken oil from 12 Iranian tankers



China and other countries receive oil shipments from a larger number of Iranian tankers than was previously known, and despite sanctions imposed by the United States to stifle Tehran's main source of income, an investigation by The New York Times has found.


The Times investigated the movements of more than 70 Iranian tankers since May 2, when the US sanctions took full effect.

Twelve of the tankers loaded oil after May 2 and shipped it to China or the Eastern Mediterranean, where buyers may have included Syria or Turkey. Only some of the 1

2 tankers were previously known to have delivered Iranian oil, and one analyst said the volume of shipments documented by The Times investigation is greater than what was known publicly.

The continuing flow of oil underscores the difficulty the Trump administration has faced in using sanctions to bring Iranian oil exports to zero after breaking with allies and partners about Iran's policies. The Obama administration had partnered with China, Russia and three European allies on the 2015 agreement to limit Iran's ability to pursue a nuclear program. President Trump's decision to withdraw from the agreement and impose sanctions was countered by these countries.

"You cannot make such threats if you cannot operationalize it," said Richard Nephew, a fellow at Columbia University and a former White House and foreign affairs official who helped enforce Iran-sanctions during the Obama administration.

"It adds up to a decision that makes them look weak and flawless," he added. “It shows that there are limitations in American power. China and elsewhere are prepared to say: & # 39; No, we will not follow the US leadership. & # 39; "

The Times reviewed data from MarineTraffic and Refinitiv, two ship tracking services, as well as satellite images from Planet Labs and analysis from shipping and energy experts.

"U.S. sanctions have not stopped Iran from moving oil to the Mediterranean and Asia," said Noam Raydan, an analyst at ClipperData, which tracks global crude shipments.


Iranian tankers regularly dock in China

Both satellite images and location data show Iranian tankers sitting in Chinese ports for several hours or days.





Jinzhou, China

22. June at 13:26 [19659013] Tianjin, China

18. June at 10:32

Humanity & # 39; s position

16. June at 16:13

Salina's position

at. 13:32

Tianjin, China

30. June at 10:32

Jinzhou, China

26. July at 11:20

Horse position

at. 06.45

Sevin's position

27. July 10:02 AM

Jinzhou, China

22. June at 22.25

Tianjin, China

18. June at 10:32 [19659031] Humanity & # 39; s position

16. June at 16:13

Salina's position

at. 13:32

Tianjin, China

30. June at 10:32 [19659037] Jinzhou, China

26. July 11:20

Horse position

06:45

Sevin position

27. July 10:02 AM [19659043] Jinzhou, China

22. June at 13:26

Tianjin, China

18. June at 10:32

Humanity & # 39; s position

16. June at 1613

Salina's position

at. 13:32

Tianjin, China

30. June at 10:32

Jinzhou, China

26. July at 11:20

Horse's position

at. 06.45

Sevin's position

27. July at 22:02

Jinzhou, China

22. June at 22.25

Tianjin, China

18. June at 10:32

Humanity & # 39; s position

16. June at 1613

Salina's position

at. 13:32

Tianjin, China

30. June 10:32

Jinzhou, China

26. July 11:20

Horse's position

06:45

Sevin's position

27. July 10:02 AM


Note: All times local. | Sources: Satellite Labs from Planet Labs; position data from MarineTraffic and Refinitiv.

It is not illegal under international law to buy and retrieve Iranian oil or related products. The Trump administration's oil sanctions, which came into force in November last year after the US withdrew from Iran's nuclear deal, are one-sided. The administration allowed eight governments to continue to buy Iranian oil despite the sanctions, but terminated those exceptions on May 2.

Foreign companies that ignore the sanctions and do business with US companies or banks may be penalized by the United States.

US officials have said the sanctions aim to cut money for the Iranian government to force leaders there to make political changes, transform their foreign policy and offer more concessions to the country's nuclear and missile programs.

While Iran continues to export oil, the sanctions have had a significant impact. In April 2018, before Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal, Iran exported 2.5 million barrels of oil per day. One year later, that figure was one million. And in June, following the end of the exceptions or deviations, ships in Iranian ports loaded about 500,000 barrels per day, according to Reid I & # 39; Anson, an energy economist at Kpler, a company that tracks seaborne raw materials.




A crude oil tanker that sailed in March through the Gulf of Persia towards Iran's Kharg Island.
Ali Mohammadi / Bloomberg

Since the sanctions came into force on May 2, low-level hostilities between Iran and the United States in the Gulf of Persia have increased, despite attempts by European nations to reduce tensions and cause Iran to comply with the nuclear deal, as it had done until it broke the nuclear fuel limits last month.

The Foreign Ministry said that any new purchases of Iranian oil after May 2 would be subject to sanctions. "Our firm policy is to completely reset the purchase of Iranian oil," it says.

Japan and South Korea, afraid of secondary sanctions imposed by Washington if they do business with Iran, have complied with the US sanctions. Turkish authorities said at the end of May that they would stop importing Iranian oil, but would not agree to the US sanctions.

In July, the British marines and port authorities in Gibraltar seized a supertanker which they said was transporting crude oil from Iran to Syria. Although Europeans do not support US sanctions against Iran, the shipment violated EU sanctions against Syria.

The Trump administration is beginning to step up sanctions enforcement to try to end exports to China, which remains the largest buyer of Iranian oil. On July 22, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced sanctions against Zhuhai Zhenrong, a Chinese state-owned enterprise, and its chief executive, Li Youmin, for "violating US restrictions on Iran's oil sector."

"We have a pretty good gem where these ships are moving," Pompeo told Bloomberg TV July 25. "Wherever we find violations, we will do our best to enforce them completely and thoroughly."




Port of Tianjin, China.
Qilai Shen / Bloomberg

But it does not satisfy any Republican members of Congress who are national security hawks.

"While I am pleased that the administration sanctioned an initial round of Chinese actors, it must strengthen strong enforcement to discourage Chinese and other foreign players from violating US sanctions on Iran," said Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio. "The Iranian regime has obviously sent millions of barrels of oil to China."

To really tighten the screws on China, the Trump administration would need to punish the People's Bank of China or other Chinese banks doing transactions with Iran Central Bank, Nephew said. The US could also punish energy giant Sinopec, which, like Zhuhai Zhenrong, also imports oil from Iran. But sanctioning the banks or Sinopec would have far-reaching consequences for global trade and deepen the divide between Washington and Beijing.

The two nations are already embraced by a bitter trade war and contrary to global security issues, and Trump is eager to conclude a trade agreement with President Xi Jinping in China.

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Geng Shuang, said on July 19 that the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran was the "root cause of the current tensions" involving Iran, and that Washington should "correct" its wrongdoing. "

Prior to the waiver of the sanctions on May 2, China had imported 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day. In the past month, China's imports have fallen to around 360,000 barrels per day, according to Kpler.


The Iranian tankers that have delivered oil

Ship

Destination

Destiny

Mediterranean

Devrez

Mediterranean

Horse

China

Humanity

China

Salina

China

Sevin

China

Silvia I

Mediterranean

Sinopa

Mediterranean

Sanan

Mediterranean

Sonia I

China

Daniel

China

Sabiti

Mediterranean

The National Iranian Tanker Company, which specifically targets US sanctions, owns or manages 11 of the 12 tankers.

In the case of Devrez, an Iranian-managed oil product tanker, the owner was listed as Great Sparkle Investments Ltd., which is registered in Hong Kong but has an office in Mumbai, India, according to the International Maritime Organization website. The tanker probably discharged its cargo in early June, Mr. Anderson said.




A worker at Iran's Salman oil field. In June, following the exception of the sanctions, ships in Iranian ports loaded about 500,000 barrels of oil per day.
Ali Mohammadi / Bloomberg

When traveling, Iranian tankers sometimes switch off their automatic identification system, making them more difficult to track, said Tom Kenison, an analyst at FGE, an energy consultant. This is common practice among smugglers – ships carrying armored Mercedes sedans and other luxury goods for North Korean buyers in violation of UN sanctions do the same.

Several Iranian tankers stopped reporting their positions after crossing the Suez Canal, but freight data suggests they unloaded their cargo in the eastern Mediterranean. Destinations may include Syria or Turkey, analysts say.

The Times could estimate when and where a tanker loaded its cargo using data for each ship's position and drag, or how high it rides in the water. The draft indicates whether a ship has been loaded.

When a vessel enters a bunk bed and there is a change in draft, for example, "we can be pretty sure the volume will be unloaded," said Mr. Anderson.

Two Iranian tankers, Snow and Sarak, traveled to China and departed without apparent change, so it was unclear whether they discharged cargo.

The draft is submitted manually by the crew, and updates can sometimes be delayed, said Stellios Stratidakis, chief communications officer at MarineTraffic.

Maria III delivered her cargo of gas to China. Five other tankers loaded oil before May 2 and delivered cargo to India and China.

Some of the Iranian ships have been previously identified in reports by Reuters, Bloomberg and TankerTrackers.com, which use satellite technology to monitor ships.

Since June, at least three ships have taken iron ore from Iran to China, said Anderson, which could also be a violation of US sanctions.

Other Iranian tankers are waiting in the Gulf of Persia loaded with crude oil, ready to move when they can find a buyer, he said. Iran sells some of the oil at a discount.

Some countries looking at the continued import of Iranian oil from China may begin to pressure the Trump administration to grant them exceptions, Nephew said. Or they may decide to just buy the oil, perhaps in secret. In June, after a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said that Abe told him that "Japan was interested in continuing to buy Iran's oil."


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