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US moves against Iranian ‘oil-for-terror’ maritime network prompts IMO complaint

The US Treasury designates more than 25 entities and individuals and 11 vessels involved in an alleged ‘oil-for-terror’ shipping network

Iran has told the International Maritime Organization that US threats against its vessels and attempts to prevent countries from providing port services are a violation of maritime treaties, according to Tehran’s ambassador in London

THE US State Department has announced plans for “sweeping action” against what it called an “oil-for-terror network” operated by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force unit.

The network involves more than 25 entities and individuals and 11 vessels, said Brian Hook, the US representative for Iran at the Department of State.

“The IRGC has been running an illicit petroleum shipping network over the past several months,” said Mr Hook. “This network has moved hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of illicit oil. That money is then used to fund terrorism.”

Speaking during a broadcast press conference, he said that in recent months the alleged network had used more than a dozen tankers to export nearly 10m barrels of crude oil, largely to Syria. These shipments sold for more than $500m.

The Financial Times has reported details of efforts made by Mr Hook’s department to pay the master of the Iranian tanker Adrian Darya 1, seized by the authorities in Gibraltar with the help of British Royal Marines in July, to deliver the tanker to a destination where the vessel could be impounded by the US.

According to emails seen by the FT, Mr Hook had personally emailed the captain of a tanker carrying Iranian oil, and offered him millions of dollars if he would steer the ship — formerly called Grace 1 — to a country where it could be impounded.

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The first email was sent 11 days after the ship was released by Gibraltar, where it was temporarily held on suspicion of shipping oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions.

“With this money you can have any life you wish and be well off in old age,” Mr Hook, the head of the state department’s Iran Action Group, wrote to the ship’s captain, according to the report. It warned him: “If you choose not to take this easy path, life will be much harder for you.”

The FT report also details a series of attempts to encourage International Maritime Organization member states to deregister Iranian vessels and claims that Panama’s deregistration of 75 vessels was directly linked to the US campaign.

The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request by Lloyd’s list for comment.

Responding to the report, Tehran’s ambassador to the UK wrote in a posting on Twitter that a complaint has been made to the IMO against US threats against the Iranian tanker.

“Our embassy in London warned the International Maritime Organization and its members that the US violated maritime treaties by threatening Iran's oil carrier, its captain and crew, as well as threatening countries from failing to provide port services,’ said Hamid Baedinejad.

The IMO was not immediately available for comment.

The names of the entities and vessels linked to the network are listed on the US Treasury’s website. Mr Hook said those who engage in transactions with these entities, individuals, and vessels are now exposed to US sanctions.

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo “has said many times that we will sanction any sanctionable activity, and taking down this shipping network is another example of delivering on that commitment”, said Mr Hook. 

The actions today follow the recent sanctioning of Chinese firm Zhuhai Zhenrong and its chief executive for importing Iranian oil.

The Qods Force “cloaks the origin of its oil” and “falsifies documents”, he said. “Countless Iranian vessels have gone dark just before delivering illicit cargo to places like Syria and to China. Deception is at the heart of the Qods Force shipping network.”

He warned that “every port operator, shipowner, and management company should steer clear of the targets identified today. The economic and the reputational costs that result from US sanctions are not worth the modest gains of doing business with Iran”.

Mr Hook announced an awards programme of up to $15m or information that gives members of the maritime community “a new tool” to help the US combat Iran’s oil-for-terror network. 

“This includes information that leads to disrupting vessels like Adrian Darya 1, which was formerly known as Grace 1,” he said. 

The US government has sanctioned the captain of Adrian Darya 1 for providing material support to a terrorist organisation. 

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