U.S. Sanctions Third Master Mariner for Shipping Iranian Oil

Otaria under way, June 2024 (Pole Star)

Published Jun 17, 2024 5:33 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. government has sanctioned a third master mariner in connection with tankers linked to Yemen's Houthi rebel movement, which has repeatedly attacked shipping in the Red Sea since last fall, injuring and killing multiple seafarers. The decision to blacklist individual licensed officers is new, and it marks an escalation in the U.S. Treasury's attempts to clamp down on funding for Iranian-backed militant groups. 

The Houthi group receives funding and weaponry from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The IRGC funds its destabilizing activities through illicit sales of Iranian oil, facilitated by a shadowy network of foreign traders and "dark fleet" tankers. Iran's petroleum sector is heavily sanctioned by the United States, but the IRGC has managed to thoroughly circumvent and subvert these limits using covert means. 

According to the U.S. Treasury, Houthi financier Sa'id al-Jamal and his associates have helped the IRGC to move sanctioned oil cargoes to buyers abroad, primarily in Asia. On Monday, Treasury officials identified the Cameroon-flagged tanker Otaria as one of these "dark fleet" vessels. The ship is operated by UAE-based Stellar Wave LLC, and Treasury identified the vessel's master as Ukrainian national Vyackeslav Salyga. 

Effective Monday, Stellar Wave LLC, Capt. Salyga and Otaria have all been placed on the Office of Foreign Assets Control's blacklist for activities supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - Quds Force, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. The timing could be especially disruptive for the Otaria, as the vessel is currently in the middle of a voyage to Singapore with a load of allegedly sanctioned commodities - "the sale of which provides an important funding stream to the Houthis that aids in their weapons procurement," according to the Treasury. 

"The Houthis’ continued, indiscriminate, and reckless attacks against unarmed commercial vessels are made possible by their access to key components necessary for the production of their missiles and UAVs," said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson. "The United States remains resolved to use the full range of our tools to halt the flow of military-grade materials and funds from commodities sales that enable these destabilizing terrorist activities."

It is the third time in a week that the Treasury has blacklisted a mariner. On June 10, the agency put Capt. Vivek Ashok Pandey (master of the tanker Olympics) and Capt. Sandeep Singh Choudhary (master of the tanker La Pearl) on its sanctions list. Both were listed for allegedly facilitating Iran's sanctioned oil trade.