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Controversy Over Iranian Tanker's Cargo Continues

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The Adrian Darya 1 at anchor of Tartus (John Bolton / Twitter)

By The Maritime Executive 2019-09-09 17:03:40

The closely-watched Iranian tanker Adrian Darya 1 arrived off the Russian naval base at Tartus, Syria on Friday, and an active debate is now under way over whether she has unloaded her cargo. If she has, it would be a diplomatic coup for the government of Iran and a minor setback for American efforts to block the flow of Iranian oil to Syria. The U.S. State Department went to considerable lengths to prevent the Darya's arrival in Syria, even threatening the maritime community at large (and seafarers in particular) with sanctions measures in connection with Iranian oil shipping activity. 

"The Adrian Darya oil tanker finally docked . . . and unloaded its cargo," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told state-owned news outlet IRNA on Sunday. Mousavi said that the tanker had arrived on the "Mediterranean coast," without referring to Syria. 

On Friday, U.S. national security advisor John Bolton released satellite imagery showing the Darya at a position about two miles off Tartus. The latest satellite imagery of the Darya from PlanetLabs shows that she is still anchored and casting only a small shadow, according to satellite data analysis firm TankerTrackers. With the time of day and the size of the vessel known, the width of a vessel's shadow as seen from space can be used to calculate draft; based on this method, TankerTrackers asserts that as of Monday, the Darya is still carrying her full cargo of 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude.

The Darya is still anchored several miles from the unloading facilities at Tartus, which do not have the depth to accomodate a VLCC of her size. To offload her cargo at Tartus, she would need to conduct at least one ship-to-ship transfer. She has not yet been photographed with another vessel alongside. 

The Darya is larger than other Iranian tankers in the vicinity, but in some ways her situation is unexceptional. Other blacklisted Iranian tankers have continued deliveries of oil to Syria throughout the Adrian Darya's two-month ordeal in the Mediterranean, though without the same level of scrutiny.