Greek Supreme Court Refuses to Overturn Release of Iranian Oil

Iranian oil cargo
Lana remains anchored off Athens awaiting the return of the oil cargo (Iranian Embassy in Athens)

Published Jul 26, 2022 4:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Supreme Court of Greece, the highest judicial authority in the country, has dealt another blow to the United States’ efforts to seize an Iranian crude oil cargo aboard a tanker anchored in Greece. On Tuesday, the Court said it saw no reason to overturn a lower court ruling from June that released the cargo and ordered it returned to the tanker which Iran has claimed as one of its fleet.

The Iranian Embassy in Athens announced the court decision with a message posted on the ambassador’s Twitter account. “Soon, the transfer operation will begin and Iran’s stolen oil has to be returned to Lana. Another fiasco for pirates!,” they wrote.

The 115,000 dwt tanker now known as the Lana has spent the past three months caught in the legal battle between the United States and Iran. U.S. officials in April had sought authorization from the Greek courts to seize the cargo aboard the tanker after it anchored off the Greek island of Evia. At the time she was identifying as a Russian-owned tanker named Pegas, while the Iranian watchdog group UANI highlighted the shadowy nature of the vessel reporting that it was carrying 700,000 barrels of Iranian crude oil loaded in August 2021. The vessel was believed to have been seeking a port or planning a ship-to-ship transfer in the Mediterranean when it encountered a mechanical problem in April.

While the U.S. was pursuing the vessel and its cargo through the Greek courts, the tanker changed its identity. It was renamed Lana and began displaying the Iranian flag for its registry. Some reporting services however continue to say that the vessel is owned by Russian interests. 

The U.S., however, had sanctioned the vessel for its alleged activity in the Iranian oil industry prior to the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was on those grounds that the U.S. sought to seize the oil saying that the ship was known to be violating international sanctions on the trade in Iranian oil.

After winning an initial court ruling, the U.S. chartered two tankers and ordered that the vessel be offloaded to its chartered vessels which were to transport the oil to Texas. The first of the tankers, Ice Energy, completed its transfer in June. The case however went back to the courts before the second tanker could begin offloading the oil. 

The owner of the two tankers sought to intervene in the case last week appealing to the Greek Supreme Court. They reported that they were caught between the U.S., which was enforcing its contract and threatening penalties for failure to complete the contract and the courts which had ordered the release of the oil. 

Both the Lana and Ice Energy have remained since early July in the anchorage off Athens. The ambassador in his Tweet suggested that Ice Energy will shortly begin the transfer of the oil back to the Lana.

Greek officials have been careful to separate this incident from Iran’s holding of two laden Greek tankers in the Persian Gulf. Iran admitted that the seizure was in retaliation for the seizure of the oil from the Lana. It is widely believed that the release of the two Greek tankers is dependent on the transfer of the oil back to the Lana.