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Iran tanker oil spill in Israeli waters ‘deliberate’

Israeli environment minister says Iran caused the oil spill that coated country’s coastline — accusing the 19-year-old tanker Emerald, previously owned by Libya’s state-owned shipping firm, the General National Maritime Transport Company

Lloyd’s List Intelligence data confirms Israel’s description of events surrounding the oil spill. Despite several instances where the Panama-flagged Emerald’s AIS is switched off, the tanker can be seen sailing past Israel at the point of the oil spill between February 1 to 2  

ISRAEL accused Iran of deliberately dumping several thousand tonnes of crude oil from a Panama-flagged tanker in its economic waters between February 1 and 2, polluting more than 100 miles of Mediterranean coastline.

The environmental ministry identified the 2002-built, 112,679 dwt tanker Emerald (IMO: 9231224) as responsible for the spill after a two-week investigation that narrowed the list of potential culprits from a list of 35 initial suspects.

The Lloyd’s Register-classified tanker was sold in December, reflagged to Panama from Malta and then immediately loaded a Syria-bound cargo of some 90,000 tonnes of crude in Iran, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence vessel-tracking data.

The ministry pinpointed Emerald on the basis of laboratory tests, satellite tracking and a process of elimination to match crude that washed up on Israel’s beaches from February 17.

The eco-terrorism allegations follow an explosion on an Israeli-owned car carrier in waters off Oman on February 25 to which Iran was linked.

The new owner of Emerald was named as Oryx Shipping Ltd, according to a spokesman from the prior owner, Libya’s state-owned General National Maritime Transport Co.

Oryx Shipping Ltd is traced to a Piraeus-based company with Syrian links, said to be owned by Luay Mallah.  An Indian shipmanagement outfit called Frontline manages most of Oryx’s purported fleet of supramax and general cargo vessels.

Neither company could be reached for comment.

Movements of Israel oil spill suspect

Underscoring Iran’s connection with the tanker, protection and indemnity insurance, providing liability for bunker and oil spills was the UAE-based Islamic P&I Club.

The little known club is not a member of the 13-member International Group covering 90% of the global fleet, and is solely used by Iranian shipowners that cannot find cover elsewhere, Lloyd’s List understands.

Islamic P&I Club

Islamic P&I provided certificates for insurance for financial liability for oil pollution damage that were valid until January 2022, as well as coverage for wreck removal and bunker oil pollution, documents seen by Lloyd’s List show.

Records provided to the flag registry listed Marshall Islands single-ship company Emerald Marine Ltd as the anonymous, untraceable owner.

Emerald is part of a fleet of some 130 elderly tankers totalling 19.5m dwt purchased over the last 18 months by disparate, anonymous owners for immediate deployment in US-sanctioned trades that operate beyond the reach of authorities.

The tanker’s Automatic Identification System was switched off as it sailed through the Gulf and the Red Sea, briefly resuming to transit the Suez Canal before it again went dark late on February 1.

The Israeli statement said the tanker then entered Israel’s economic waters to deliberately dump some of its crude cargo during the 24-hour period AIS was switched off, before reappearing off Syria’s coast.

The Israeli investigation claims that Emerald unloaded the remainder of the crude oil it was carrying onto other vessels via ship-to-ship transfers and sailed back to Iran. Syria is the second-largest buyer of Iranian crude after China.

Lloyd’s Register said it was checking the veracity of information provided to it about the vessel.

“Satellites discovered two more stains between Cyprus and Syria, in the area the ship had sailed,” said the March 3 statement issued by Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection.

“The vessel returned to Iran again, again in the ‘dark’ when it entered Israel’s economic waters; it stayed that way until it reached a port in Iran, where it is currently anchored.”

Environment minister Gila Gamliel said the Israeli authorities would contact Emerald’s insurers, “and will do whatever is necessary to ensure that the state of Israel receives compensation from the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds”.

“We will bring to justice those responsible for the environmental terrorism,” she said in a statement, which contained no details of why she believed the spill was intentional, rather than an accident.

Lloyd’s List has approached Ms Gamliel for comment.

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