US Follows Air Assault with Sanctions on Iranian and Houthi’s Finances

US follows its stirkes on Houthi interest with financial sanctions on tankers used to finance the assaults (file photo)

Published Jan 12, 2024 8:14 PM by The Maritime Executive


The United States launched a one-two punch at the Houthis and their Iranian backers first with airborne strikes hitting more than 60 targets across Yemen and then hours later with the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). It was the second round of sanctions imposed in as many weeks and this time targets four tankers involved in the Iranian oil trade.

“The United States continues to take action against the illicit Iranian financial networks that fund the Houthis and facilitate their attacks,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson. “Together with our allies and partners, we will take all available measures to stop the destabilizing activities of the Houthis and their threats to global commerce.”

The target of the sanctions is the network of Iran-based, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF)-backed Houthi financial facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal. The U.S. contended that the Houthi and IRGC-QF financial facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal engages in a variety of commercial activities that involve the sale of Iranian commodities to generate revenue for the Houthis and the IRGC-QF.

Among the vessels they identified is the crude oil tanker Mehle (150,875 dwt) currently registered in Panama and owned and managed by Hong Kong-based Cielo Maritime. Built in 1999, the U.S. authorities said the vessel has been used to transport Iranian product but used “forged shipping documents to disguise the Iranian origin of the cargo.” 

Like many vessels used in the shadow trade, this tanker has a spotty history. It underwent an initial port state inspection in China last August, where the authorities listed five deficiencies. Chief among them were problems with its emergency generator, fire detection, and alarm system, and maintenance of the fire protection systems.

The U.S. is listing the tanker while also designating Cielo Marine for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to, or in support of, Sa’id al-Jamal.  

The second tanker listed today is the Sincere 02 (47,000 dwt), managed and operated by Marshall Islands-registered, United Arab Emirates-based Global Tech Marine Services which the U.S. also said sought to disguise the origin of the goods using forged documents. Sa’id al-Jamal has shipped Iranian commodities onboard the Sincere 02 the U.S. said in coordination with Turkey-based Abdi Nasir Ali Mahamud, who was designated.

The vessel also registered in Panama has an equally shadowy status. According to the Equasis database no port state inspections have been recorded for the vessel, which was built in 2001, since an Iranian authority surveys the vessel in 2018. They found deck wastage and problems with the lifeboats. Similar issues were found in a prior 2017 inspection also in Iran.

Two other tankers also operated by Global Tech Marine Services were also listed today. The Molecule (70,000 dwt) registered in Cameroon was built in 1999. In August 2023 Chinese port inspectors listed 34 deficiencies and detained the ship but in October it got a clean report in Singapore. Similarly, they listed the Fortune Galaxy (105,670 dwt) also registered in Panama. Built in 2003, the vessel was cited for 17 deficiencies in 2022 in Singapore but received a clean inspection in 2023 also in Singapore.

The U.S. Treasury on December 28 launched the first round of sanctions, blacklisting three organizations for helping to transfer Iranian funds to Yemen's Houthi rebels. This included a currency exchange firm and bank in Yemen and a Turkish financial services house.

Earlier, President Joe Biden had issued a statement saying that the U.S.’s actions were meant to send a clear message that the United States and its partners will not tolerate the attacks or allow hostile actors to imperil freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most critical commercial routes. He said that he would “not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary.”