Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Oil tankers stripped of flags after breaching U.S. sanctions to secretly ship Iranian oil



Crude Oil Tanker, IMO: 9246279, MMSI: 341798000

A maritime research firm described a complex “ballet” performed by Iranian and foreign vessels to flout U.S. sanctions.

LONDON — Four oil tankers have been stripped of their flags following an NBC News investigation into allegations they secretly transported Iranian oil in defiance of crippling U.S. sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump.

The four ships all made covert visits to Iranian waters this year where they collectively picked up millions of barrels of oil, according to data from Tanker Trackers, a maritime research firm.

The trips were part of what Tanker Trackers describes as a complex “ballet” performed by Iranian and foreign vessels, in which ships manipulate their tracking data to hide their involvement in flouting U.S. sanctions.

A July 31 report from NBC News featured 15 ships, including four — the Giessel, the Ekaterina, the Lerax, and the Amfitriti — that were sailing under the flag of the Caribbean island state of St. Kitts & Nevis.

Five days after the report was broadcast, the St. Kitts & Nevis Ship Registry decided it would no longer allow the tankers to fly under its flag.

Under maritime law, seagoing ships must fly the flag of a nation state. Vessels that have been stripped of their flag are unable to carry out basic functions like sailing into port or registering for maritime insurance.

“The St. Kitts & Nevis International Ship Registry takes any violations of imposed sanctions very seriously and will act swiftly and effectively to deal with infringements involving any vessels flying its flag,” the registry said in a statement emailed to NBC News. “Such was the case with the tanker Giessel which was de-flagged on August 4th following press reports that it had visited an Iranian port.”

A registry spokesman confirmed the three other ships had also been stripped of their flags.

Public records from the International Maritime Organization show that the four ships are no longer under the St. Kitts & Nevis flag. Their nationality is now listed as “unknown.” While they may be able to eventually register again with a new state, the loss of their flags is likely to hinder their movements in the short term.

The maritime organization’s records reveal a complex web of companies responsible for the ownership of each of the ships. But three of the vessels are ultimately under the care of the same firm, an Indian company called Floretta Ship Management. The fourth ship is linked to another Indian company, Ravel Ship Management.

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