Report: U.S. Offered to Pay Master of Iranian Tanker to Switch Sides

The Adrian Darya 1 at anchor off Gibraltar (video still via social media)

By The Maritime Executive 09-04-2019 06:06:50

A senior official from the U.S. State Department attempted to pay the master of the Iranian tanker Adrian Darya 1 to deliver his vessel into American custody, according to a report published Wednesday by the Financial Times. Emails provided to the FT suggest that U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook offered Capt. Akhilesh Kumar a payment in the millions of dollars to divert his course to an American-designated destination. Hook allegedly threatened to make Capt. Kumar's life more difficult if Kumar followed his ship manager's orders and brought the vessel to Syria. 

"With this money you can have any life you wish and be well-off in old age . . . If you choose not to take this easy path, life will be much harder for you," Hook allegedly wrote to Kumar. On Wednesday, Hook told reporters at a State Department press conference that the U.S. is offering a reward of up to $15 million "for any person who helps us disrupt the financial operations of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and Qods Force." 

On August 30, the U.S. Treasury placed Capt. Kumar on its travel and asset blacklist for allegedly facilitating terrorism. (The Trump administration considers the Iranian government's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization, and therefore - in the administration's view - assisting IRGC oil shipping is equivalent to assisting a terrorist financial network.)

However, U.S. officials have told Voice of America that Kumar has refused to deliver his vessel's cargo to Syria and is interested in being relieved of command. Satellite imagery shows that the Adrian Darya has arrived off Syria's coast, where she is widely expected to undertake a ship-to-ship transfer to offload her cargo. 

U.S. Treasury blacklists Indian ship managers

On Wednesday, the Treasury announced that it is also blacklisting a "vast oil-for-terror shipping network" for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force, including 16 entities, 10 individuals and 11 vessels. In addition to various Iranian and Lebanese Hizbollah officials, the department alleges that multiple foreign nationals have worked with IRGC-QF shipments. The Treasury asserts that:

- India-based Mehdi Group and its director, Ali Zaheer Mehdi, have allegedly crewed and managed at least seven of the vessels used by the IRGC-QF network, including the Adrian Darya 1. 

- Mehdi Group subsidiaries Bushra Ship Management Private Limited and Khadija Ship Management Private Limited, under director Ali Ghadeer Mehdi, allegedly handle day-to-day operations of some the network’s vessels.

- Mehdi Group employees Anuj Bhardwaj and Zafar Anis Ishteyaq Hussain allegedly arrange inspections and expense payments for these vessels. 

- Medhi Group subsidiary Vaniya Ship Management has allegedly set up shell companies for purchasing tankers used for IRGC-QF shipments. 

- Lebanon-based firm Africo 1 Off-Shore SAL allegedly helps Vaniya Ship Management operate the tanker Jasmine for the IRGC-QF network. 

- Ali Qasir, a Lebanese national and IRGC-QF associate, has allegedly negotiated Iranian oil sales prices and settled vessel-related payments.

These individuals and entities - along with many related individuals and subsidiaries - have been placed on the Office of Foreign Asset Control's sanctions blacklist. Any physical or financial assets they may have within U.S. jurisdiction must be blocked and reported to the Treasury, and U.S. entities are generally prohibited from engaging in business with them. 

The vessels Bonita Queen, Jasmine, Sarak, Sobar, Solan and Tour 2 have also been added to the sanctions list. All but the Jasmine are linked to Medhi Group subsidiaries. 

“The Iranian regime is leveraging a terrorist organization as its chief conduit for obfuscating and selling hundreds of millions of dollars of illicit oil to fuel its nefarious agenda.  Iran’s exportation of oil directly funds acts of terrorism by Iranian proxies and atrocities by the Assad regime against innocent people,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury's under secretary for terrorism. “This vast oil-for-terror shipping network demonstrates how economically reliant Tehran is on the IRGC-QF and Hizballah as financial lifelines.  The international community must vehemently reject Iranian oil and related products in the same way that it rejects the violent acts of terrorism these networks fund.”

Iran releases seven crewmembers from Stena Impero

On Wednesday, the Iranian foreign ministry announced that Tehran has released seven members of the crew of the tanker Stena Impero, which was seized by Iranian commandos on July 19. Swedish owner Stena Bulk has been in communication with the Iranian government and with the captured seafarers' nations of citizenship in order to secure their release. 

"They have left the vessel and the final procedures are under way to send them back to their countries," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told state media. 

In response to the announcement, Stena Bulk CEO Erik Hanell said that the firm is pleased that the ordeal may soon be over for seven crewmembers. However, the firm has not yet received any confirmation of a release date from the Iranian authorities. “We view this communication as a positive step on the way to the release of all the remaining crew, which has always been our primary concern and focus," he said. 

Stena Bulk noted that the remaining seafarers on board will satisfy the vessel's Minimum Safe Manning Certificate requirements.