US Seizes Oil from Shadowy Russian Tanker
The story of a shadowy Russian oil tanker took a new turn today as the U.S. Department of Justice seized the oil aboard the vessel and according to reports is in the process of transferring the oil to the United States on a chartered tanker. The vessel was detained nearly seven weeks ago in Greece when authorities thought it was covered by the European Union sanctions on Russian assets, but later held for mechanical deficiencies while watchdog groups announced that it was actually smuggling sanctioned Iranian oil.
The Aframax tanker arrived off Greece early in April with reports of a possible mechanical failure and indications that they were looking for assistance to make repairs to continue their voyage. When she anchored south of the Greek island of Evia the 115,520 dwt tanker was being identified as the Russian-flagged Pegas. The assumption at the time was that it was laden with a Russian crude oil cargo.
"The seizure came at the request of the Americans because the cargo came from a sanctioned country and moved on a sanctioned ship," a Greek official told Dow Jones this morning. "The oil is being moved to another tanker which will sail to the U.S." The American authorities have been using the courts to seize Iranian oil in violation of the sanctions imposed on the trade. The watchdog group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which has been following the movements of the vessel, first announced the apparent ship-to-ship transfer on Twitter yesterday.
Sanctioned tanker LANA (formerly PEGAS) has begun a STS transfer of its #Iranian oil to the tanker ICE ENERGY off of #Greece. Reminder: LANA was sanctioned for ties to #Russia and the vessel is carrying oil from #Iran. ????#OOTT #UANIShipping pic.twitter.com/ABzR1vxlHX— Claire Jungman (@claire_jungman) May 23, 2022
Greek authorities on April 15 announced that the vessel was being detained under the EU’s recently announced sanctions and the belief that the vessel was controlled by the Russian bank PSB. The bank was one of the institutions designated by both the U.S. and EU under the sanctions imposed due to the invasion of Ukraine.
Days later, Greek authorities reportedly released the vessel believing that they did not have the authority to detain it. The registered manager of the vessel was not PSB but another Russian company Transmorflot. Further complicating the situation, the vessel which had been operating as Pegas since June 2021 reported it had changed its name to Lana as of March 1, 2022, a fact later confirmed by reporting services including Equasis.
While the Greek Anti-Money Laundering Authority had withdrawn its effort to hold the vessel under the EU sanctions, the vessel was also undergoing a port state inspection due to the reports of mechanical problems. The Greek authorities issued a maritime detention order on April 18 citing problems of insufficient power from the main engine, corrosion on the decks, damaged railing catwalks, and the cleanliness of the engine room.
UANI at the same time started highlighting the shadowy nature of the vessel reporting that it was carrying 700,000 barrels of Iranian crude oil loaded in August 2021. The vessel had apparently been seeking a port to discharge its cargo for an extended period and was likely heading to Turkey when it encountered the mechanical problem. It was further highlighted that the vessel had previously been listed by the American authorities in earlier sanctions aimed at the Iranian oil trade.
Greek authorities made vague mentions of waiting to resolve a court case, while the vessel remained at anchor and detained due to its mechanical problems. The Russian Embassy in Greece also said it was also investigating the case, but in one more turn, on May 1 the vessel was transferred from the Russian registry to Iran. UANI had been reporting that the vessel was flying the Iranian flag.
The vessel has a checkered history typical of the ships operating in the shadows. According to data from Equasis, the tanker operated from 2003 to 2012 as the Montiron, and then went through a series of name changes first to Herm and then Texas Star in 2012. She later became the Perun in 2020, the Pegas in 2021, and Equasis confirmed the recent change to Lana, which took place a week after it was designated by the U.S. The database says it came under the Russian flag in 2020 with its management moving between Transmorflot and PSB and back to Transmorflot.