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US sanctions paralyse Iran oil exports

The so-called practice of ‘going dark’ while in Iranian waters obfuscates vessel movements, making it harder to monitor activity. These practices, along with clandestine ship-to-ship transfers, are believed to have ramped up this month to avoid scrutiny

The dramatic slide in shipments seen leaving Iran this month is unprecedented and underscores that steps are being taken to evade tracking

VESSEL tracking shows no cargoes loading and sailing this month amid tactics to limit visible shipments. 

Iran’s oil exports have been paralysed by stricter US sanctions this month, with vessel-tracking showing no cargoes have loaded and sailed from the Middle East Gulf.

The US ended temporary waivers on May 2 that allowed eight countries, including China and India, to maintain limited imports of Iranian crude.

The US administration said the stated aim was to reduce Iran imports to zero.

Since the month began, four very large crude carriers and one suezmax tanker were tracked to waters off Iran.

They are now either loading or waiting to load cargoes, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence.

The five ships are owned by the National Iranian Tanker Co; all have turned their automatic identification system transponders off between May 6 and 12.

The so-called practice of ‘going dark’ while in Iranian waters obfuscates vessel movements, making it harder to monitor activity. These practices, along with clandestine ship-to-ship transfers, are believed to have ramped up this month to avoid scrutiny.

Iranian crude and condensate exports have already plunged by more than half the levels seen before the US re-imposed sanctions on the country’s oil and petrochemical sector in November.

Last month, Iranian exports were measured at some 1m barrels per day, Lloyd’s List Intelligence data shows. That compares with two years ago when monthly exports in April totalled 2.35m bpd.

The dramatic slide in shipments seen leaving Iran this month is unprecedented and underscores that steps are being taken to evade tracking.

The subterfuge comes amid increased maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz and escalating tension between Iran and US allies in the Middle East including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

With commercial tankers subject to harsh US penalties if they ship Iranian oil, exports are mostly limited to the NITC-owned fleet of 67 vessels, which includes 36 very large crude carriers and eight suezmax tankers.

The NITC tankers are turning their AIS transponders that transmit their location and depth in the water off when loading, and also for protracted periods during voyages.

Vessels have also been observed via satellite imagery conducting ship-to-ship transfers in waters off Malacca on to older tankers linked to Shanghai-based Kunlun Holding Co when AIS signals were not transmitting.

It is estimated that about 300,000 bpd of Iranian crudes remain uncounted, excluding opacity from cargo-tracking, which can hide shipments for lengthy periods.

The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries said in its monthly report today that Iranian crude production in April was at 2.55m bpd, down from 2.7m bpd in the prior month. More than 2017 Iran’s production was 3.8m bpd.

 
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