Iran Sentences Tanker Crew to Jail for Alleged Fuel Smuggling

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Picture of the tanker Ariana released by Iran with the allegations of fuel smuggling (IRNA photo)

Published Oct 17, 2023 2:42 PM by The Maritime Executive

A court in Iran has reportedly sentenced the crew of a Panama-registered tanker to jail as part of the Iranian’s efforts to crack down on alleged fuel smuggling in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman. Last October, the Iranians detained a tanker that they identified as the Ariana (17,475 dwt) alleging it was part of a larger smuggling ring.

According to the reports in the Iranian media, the chief justice of the Hormozgan Province speaking in court said they had confiscated 11.5 million liters of diesel fuel valued at $5 million from the Ariana after the vessel was seized on October 30, 2022. He contended that the vessel was receiving Iranian diesel that was being ferried to the ship by smaller ships from Iranian fuel barges. The seizure, he told the court, consisted of the Ariana as well as two smaller vessels and was part of a larger smuggling operation that has recovered more than 27 million liters of diesel fuel.

Records show the Ariana, which was built in 2016, with a last reported position of the Sharjah anchorage in the UAE on October 22, 2022. The Equasis database records the ship’s last known managers as Saint James Shipping of Greece.

The Iranians reported seizing the vessel eight days after its last AIS signal with a crew of 21 “non-Iranian crewmembers.” This came after a month-long operation in which the Iranian officials said they had expanded their intelligence operations and were monitoring the movement of vessels in the region. 


Iran claims to have found documents aboard showing the extent of the fuel smuggling (IRNA photo)


The crew of the Ariana was reportedly arrested while the investigation was ongoing into the alleged smuggling operation. Their mobile phones were confiscated and reviewed which prosecutors told the court along with documents found on the vessel showed the extent of the smuggling operation. They claimed to have found dozens of papers including invoices and receipts, as well as details on the buyers and sellers. They also alleged that the records showed the vessels had been turning off their navigational aids (AIS) to hide details of their position.

A total of 40 people were arrested as part of the smuggling operation. The court reportedly issued sentences ranging between one and five years with a total of 22 years in prison for the crewmembers, but it was unclear how many individuals and from which vessels were sentenced by the court. 

The court also ordered the impounding of a tugboat involved in the operation, which is being valued at a half million dollars. Fines were also imposed on the companies involved in the operation, with some reports saying the total fines could be as much as $975 million. The court has said if the fines are not paid, they will order the seizure of the Ariana along with the two other vessels. Iranian media reports set the value of the three vessels at $55 million.

Iran has made a visible show of cracking down on vessels it alleges were involved in smuggling operations. Most of the seizures have however been of smaller vessels.