Euronav investigating claims it unwittingly stored sanctioned Iranian oil
Investigations underway with US authorities as activist group UANI identifies alleged sanctioned Iranian crude being transferred to a Euronav storage ULCC
Belgian tanker giant insists that robust due diligence procedures identified cargo as Iraqi and the third-party customer renting oil storage was a known customer
EURONAV is investigating claims that one of its tankers used for storing oil accepted sanctioned Iranian crude in a ship-to-ship transfer off the coast of Malaysia.
The Belgian tanker giant is co-operating with various authorities including the US Office of Foreign Assets Control and counterparties to verify the origins of a cargo that it believes is Iraqi, but activist group United Against Nuclear Iran believes is Iranian.
The Belgium-flagged Oceania (IMO: 9246633), which is primarily used for floating storage by Euronav, is alleged to have undertaken a ship-to-ship transfer this week at Malaysia’s Sungai Linggi anchorage with a Vietnam-flagged aframax tanker Abyss (IMO: 9157765), purportedly carrying US-sanctioned Iranian oil.
Euronav is “aggressively investigating the allegations” but insists that the company has taken all the appropriate measures and followed stringent internal protocols to ensure compliance with all regulations.
“We have investigated this over the past 48 hours, and we are clear that we have done all the due diligence, we have done all the protocols, we have involved all of the relevant authorities, and absolutely nothing gave us any indication that this was anything other than the Iraqi origin oil we thought it to be,” said company spokesman Brian Gallagher.
Oceania is a floating bunker supply vessel not involved in active trading. It is used to store the company’s own oil, but space on the vessel is also occasionally rented out to other companies.
In the case of the Abyss transfer, Euronav has not identified the counterparty, but it confirmed that this was a customer it has dealt with before.
Abyss, which is known to have been engaged in Iranian oil trading for the past 18 months, sailed 12 days ago from international waters off southeast Malaysia, where it had been at anchor.
After stopping for nine days at Singapore’s east anchorage, it sailed to Oceania, where Lloyd's List Intelligence vessel-tracking data reflected patterns suggesting ship-to-ship transfer.
The recent trading history of Abyss is littered with similar incidents and the tanker is one of several Vietnam-flagged vessels that has been actively engaged in loading and transferring Iranian crude.
Abyss was also involved in an aborted ship-to-ship transfer involving Maersk Tankers last year and a similar incident in 2019 that saw Italian oil firm Eni reject a cargo on quality grounds amid suggestions that the oil loaded from Abyss via a separate STS operation was Iranian rather Iraqi.
In the case of the Maersk Tankers rejection, Abyss delivered an Iranian-origin cargo to the Panama-flagged Shanaye Queen (IMO: 9242118) that was then being loaded on to the Maersk Tankers-operated Diamond (IMO: 9315446) on January 28, 2022 in waters off Sohar.
During a five-day AIS gap in the in the Middle East Gulf, satellite photos provided by non-governmental organisation United Against Nuclear Iran showed the Abyss loading in Iran days before the Shanaye Queen STS transfer.
Lloyd’s List Intelligence data reveals multiple cases of the Abyss switching off its AIS, loitering in high risk areas and engaging in ship-to-ship transfers with high risk vessels.
According to Mr Gallagher, earlier checks on the Abyss and it's cargo had produced a “clean bill of health”. Euronav will continue to investigate this latest incident and take the appropriate action if any issues are uncovered, he told Lloyd's List.
UANI said in a letter to Euronav that, based on satellite imagery and the evidence gathered in its investigation, it believes Abyss took on the crude at the Iranian port of Bandar Mahshahr after turning off its Automatic Identification System tracker on 18 February.
Mr Gallagher said he would be surprised if Euronav’s robust due diligence procedures had fallen short, but conceded that the complexities of the sanction regimes in place presented “a minefield” for shipping companies.
“We are very surprised we are in this situation but we are working very diligently with everybody now to make sure that we can get to the bottom of it with the investigation,” he said.