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Tanker Aground off Singapore May Have Been Smuggling Venezuelan Oil

grounded tanker accused of smuggling Venezuelan oil
Young Yong is aground near Singapore as the controversy mounts around the tanker (Indonesian Navy file photo)

Published Nov 9, 2022 5:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

The circumstances around the Djibouti-flagged tanker than ran aground in Indonesian waters near Singapore are growing increasingly complicated. Initial reports said that the vessel was carrying a cargo of crude from Malaysia to China, but days after the grounding, the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted the vessel as part of a scheme linked to Iran. Now in a report first carried by Reuters, the NGO United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) and TankerTrackers.com are reporting the vessel was transporting Venezuelan fuel oil supplied to Iran.

According to the two groups, which used satellite images and reviewed documents, the 306,000 dwt tanker Young Yong was involved in an elaborate deception as part of the payment for Iranian fuel sent to Venezuela. As first reported by Reuters, there was a ship-to-ship transfer involving two other tankers, including another blacklisted vessel, loading fuel aboard the Young Yong. The transfers reportedly took place during March and April of this year off Venezuela.

The U.S. Treasury has already accused the Young Yong of being part of an elaborate smuggling scheme and falsifying reports. Announcing that the tanker was being added to the blacklist, Treasury Department officials charged that the captain of the oil tanker Young Yong had falsified the ship’s location data in the prior smuggling effort. They linked the tanker to Marshall Islands firm Technology Bright, saying it had been used in a scheme to provide financial support to Iran and Hizballah.

The latest reports are the second time this year that the watchdog group UANI has highlighted plots by Iran involving shady tanker operations. In April, a Russia-owned tanker sought refuge in Greece setting off a dispute that continues and lead to Iran taking two Greek tankers hostage. UANI highlighted the fact that the oil aboard the tanker was from Iran setting off a U.S. effort to seize the oil that was later overturned by the Greek courts. Greece returned the oil to the tanker which by that time had changed its identity reporting that it was an Iran vessel named Lana. Although the vessel has been released, the tanker remains in the anchorage in Piraeus with reports saying Iran fears the U.S. might again attempt to seize the vessel if it enters international waters. The Iranian forces continue to hold the two Greek tankers seized in retaliation. 

U.S. actions are again complicating this latest tanker situation with reports that Indonesia has determined that it needs international assistance to complete the salvage. The Straits Times reported that the first salvage company however withdrew fearing the U.S. after the vessel was blacklisted. Indonesia has reportedly asked for the U.S. government’s assistance to which the U.S. said it would permit companies to undertake the salvage but was not authorizing the ship-to-ship transfer of the oil from the Young Yong. Indonesia’s Navy has said it needs to reduce the weight of the tanker to free it and that the operation will be complicated by the proximity of the tanker to the gas lines supplying Singapore.

After the U.S. blacklisted the Young Yong and exposed its role in the smuggling scheme, Djibouti Maritime Authority reportedly withdrew the tanker’s registration. In addition, the American Bureau of Shipping, which had provided classification services, canceled the vessel’s seaworthiness certification.

The Young Yong remains stuck in shallow waters off Singapore. The Indonesia Navy warned earlier this week that it could take as much as a month to free the ship.