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China’s Kunlun Shipping linked to imports of sanctioned Iranian LPG

The LPG carriers use the same complicated logistics chain that obfuscates the origin and destination of the Iranian-loaded propane and butane cargoes, similar to the ‘under the radar’ practices that a handful of very large crude carriers undertake to import sanctioned Iranian crude into China

Vessels are turning off their automatic identification system transponders while in Iranian waters and conducting ship-to-ship transfers off Malaysia and the Maldives, Lloyd’s List Intelligence data shows

A CHINESE company revealed to be flouting US sanctions on Iranian crude exports is now defying the Trump administration by using a fleet of eight liquefied petroleum gas carriers to ship propane and butane, data shows.

The LPG carriers use the same complicated logistics chain that obfuscates the origin and destination of the Iranian-loaded propane and butane cargoes, similar to the “under the radar” practices that a handful of very large crude carriers undertake to import sanctioned Iranian crude into China.

The very large gas carriers are linked to Kunlun Shipping either as owner or operator.

Vessels are turning off their Automatic Identification System transponders while in the Middle East Gulf region and conducting ship-to-ship transfers in waters off Malaysia and the Maldives, Lloyd’s List Intelligence data shows.

The Iran-China LPG flows are in breach of US sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical exports, and ensnare a myriad of London-based marine insurers, “white-listed” flag states in sanctions-busting activities.

West of England P&I Club, in which the Liberia-flagged 56,828 dwt Gas Dignity is entered, is now investigating the carriers’ movements.

 

 

On May 22, the vessel turned off its AIS transponder, which transmits its position and other identifying features, shortly after arriving in Iranian waters. It reappeared after a seven-day gap sailing through the Strait of Hormuz and later signalled it was laden.

On June 2, the carrier appeared to conduct a ship-to-ship transfer in waters mid-way between the Maldives and Sri Lanka with another LPG carrier, Pacific Yantai which then sailed to China.

“Like all other clubs, we are not aware exactly where the some 3,500 vessels (we have entered) are trading all the time,” a spokesman for West of England P&I told Lloyd’s List.

He said there was an exclusion in the policy that automatically invalidated P&I cover if a ship was found to be in breach of sanctions.

Gas Dignity’s movements fit a similar pattern to four other LPG carriers: Liberia-flagged 44,652 dwt Gas Infinity, the Panama-flagged 54,999 dwt Gas Courage, Hong Kong-flagged 53,208 dwt Global Capricorn, and Liberian-flagged 52,160 dwt Sea Dolphin.

All the vessels had gaps of between five to eight days in AIS signals once nearby areas off Iranian waters, and reappeared outside the Strait of Hormuz loaded, Lloyd’s List Intelligence vessel-tracking data shows.

The Hong Kong-flagged 54,747 dwt VLCG Pacific Weihei was tracked conducting an STS transfer off Port Dickson, Malaysia, near the Malacca Strait on May 7 with Gas Dignity before sailing to China and discharging near Ningbo several weeks later.

The STS point is the same area where Kunlun-linked VLCCs have conducted transfers of Iranian crude for onward shipment to China.

Gard confirmed Pacific Weihai was entered, but a spokeswoman declined expand, saying it did not comment on individual members.

London-based UK P&I club, through which Gas Infinity is entered via London Steamship Owners’ Mutual Insurance Association, did not respond to requests for comment. Skuld is also a P&I insurer of the VLCGs.

Liberia’s flag registry has already deflagged four VLCCs linked to Kunlun Shipping and is investigating the LPG carriers.

Panama did not return calls seeking comment. The Hong Kong registry could not be reached.

Kunlun Shipping, which is either the beneficial owner of the VLGCs or is listed as the third-party operator, did not respond to an email requesting further information.

It previously declined to comment about the activities of its VLCC fleet shipping Iranian crude.

The company has offices in Hong Kong but is operated from Shanghai.

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