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Two More Tankers Sanctioned by U.S. for Support of Iran and Houthis

tanker
U.S. continues to sanction tankers linked to the Iranian oil trade (file photo)

Published Mar 6, 2024 3:40 PM by The Maritime Executive


The United States is keeping up its pressure on what it has identified as the funding sources for the Houthi militants through the sale of Iranian oil. For the second time in a week, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control targeted shipping companies and vessels it says are facilitating Iran’s Qods Force and the Houthis through commodity shipments.

“The IRGC-QF and the Houthis continue to rely on the illicit sale of commodities to finance their attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson. “The United States remains resolved to hold accountable those who enable these destabilizing activities.”

The latest action targets two Hong Kong and Marshall Islands-based shipowners and two vessels for their role in the scheme. The ships had previously been identified by the watchdog organization United Against a Nuclear Iran for their role in the shadowy oil trade. Today’s action was also related to the joint U.S. and UK sanctions announced on February 27 against individuals and ships involved in the Iranian oil trade.

The first vessel listed is the Palau-flagged Reneez, a 22-year-old crude oil tanker, which is owned and managed by Marshall Islands-based Reneez Shipping. According to U.S. officials, the vessel has transported tens of thousands of metric tons of Iranian commodities for the network of Iran-based IRGC-QF-backed Houthi financier Sa’id al-Jamal. They report that Al-Jamal’s network often uses falsified cargo documents to mask the Iran-origin cargo onboard and to obfuscate its ties to Iran and al-Jamal’s network.

An analysis of the vessel’s movements shows that it was recently in the Persian Gulf. It is currently reporting a position in Malaysia.

The U.S. is also targeting a supertanker, the Panama-flagged Eternal Fortune (319,400 dwt). Built in 2002, the U.S. reports the vessel which is owned by Hong Kong-based Hongkong Unitop Group has been linked to illegal ship-to-ship transfers and also emitted a false AIS signal while receiving the STS transfers. 

Specifically, they cite a recent transfer from another Panama-flagged tanker, Artura (150,000 dwt), which was sanctioned last week for its role in transporting Iranian commodities on behalf of al-Jamal. According to the U.S., the Artura falsified its AIS signal to indicate it was traveling north from Singapore while the vessel was in the process of conducting a ship-to-ship transfer with the Eternal Fortune, which was also masking its true position.

The Artura is displaying a position as in the Singapore anchorage. The Eternal Fortune however is continuing to mask its movements. The AIS signal shows it departed Malaysia but the destination is undeclared. The speculation is that the tanker is sailing to China.

The U.S. has become more aggressive with its use of sanctions in recent months both against the Iranian oil trade and vessels used to violate the price cap on Russian oil. Reports are that the sanctions have had an effect with some of the tankers idled, but the shadow fleet has grown to nearly 400 vessels as of the end of 2023 involved in the Iranian trade according to UANI. They calculate that this has increased from 70 tankers they identified in November 2020 for transporting Iranian oil.