The United States has confiscated Iranian oil held on a Russian-operated vessel near Greece and will send the cargo to the United States on another vessel, three sources familiar with the matter said.
It was unclear whether the cargo was seized because it was Iranian oil or because of sanctions imposed on the tanker for its link to Russia. Iran and Russia face separate US sanctions.
The Iranian-flagged ship, the Pegas, was among five ships designated by Washington on February 22 – two days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine – for sanctions against Promsvyazbank, a bank considered essential to the Russian defense sector. .
Seized Russian tanker to be released by Greece amid sanctions confusion
The Russian shipowner Transmorflot was then designated on May 8. The tanker, renamed Lana on March 1 and flying the Iranian flag since May 1, has since remained near Greek waters. It was previously under the Russian flag.
A source at Greece’s shipping ministry said on Thursday that the US Justice Department had “informed Greece that the ship’s cargo was Iranian oil.”
“The cargo was transferred to another vessel which was leased by the United States,” the source added, without providing further details.
The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on what it described as a Russian-backed oil smuggling and money laundering ring for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Al-Quds Force, even as Washington trying to revive a nuclear deal with Iran.
A spokesperson for the US Department of Justice declined to comment on the oil seizure.
Russian officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The confiscation was confirmed by a separate Western source familiar with the matter, who said the cargo was transferred to the Liberian-flagged tanker Ice Energy operated by Greek shipping company Dynacom.
A Dynacom source confirmed that an “oil transfer is underway from the vessel to Dynacom’s Ice Energy, which will then sail to the United States”.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported on Wednesday that its foreign ministry had summoned the charge d’affaires of the Greek embassy in Tehran following the seizure of cargo from a ship that was ” under the banner of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Greek waters and he was aware of the strong objections” of the Iranian government.
Greek government officials could not confirm the information.
IRNA quoted Iran’s Ports and Maritimes Organization as saying the tanker had taken refuge along the Greek coast after encountering technical problems and bad weather, adding that the seizure of its cargo was “an example clear of piracy”.
On Thursday, the Ice Energy reported that its position was anchored near the island of Evia in southern Greece, according to ship tracking data on Eikon.
In 2020, Washington confiscated four shipments of Iranian fuel aboard foreign ships bound for Venezuela and transferred them with the help of undisclosed foreign partners to two other ships which then sailed to the United States.
These seizures occurred after a U.S. District Court issued an order for the shipments’ cargoes in a civil forfeiture case.
Last month, Greek authorities seized the Pegas, with 19 Russian crew members on board, near the coast of Evia island.
They said the vessel was seized as part of EU sanctions against Russia for invading Ukraine. However, the vessel was later released due to confusion over the penalties imposed on its owners.
US advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which monitors Iran-linked tanker traffic, said the Pegas loaded around 700,000 barrels of crude oil from Iran’s island of Sirri on August 19, 2021 .
Prior to this loading, the Pegas transported more than 3 million barrels of Iranian oil in 2021, of which more than 2.6 million barrels ended up in China, according to UANI’s analysis.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has engaged in indirect talks to revive a 2015 Iran nuclear deal that former President Donald Trump scrapped, under which world powers lifted international financial sanctions on Tehran in exchange restrictions on its nuclear program.
As talks appeared poised to resuscitate the deal in March, they stalled on last-minute Russian demands and the possibility of Washington removing the Revolutionary Guards from its terrorism list.
Washington’s envoy for Iran said on Wednesday that the chances of reviving the nuclear deal were shaky at best and that Washington was ready to step up sanctions against Iran.
(Reporting by Jonathan Saul in London and Lefteris Papadimas and Renee Mazeltou in Athens; additional reporting by Dubai bureau; Editing by Jason Neely, David Evans and Howard Goller)
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