Iranian oil tankers go dark with six weeks to go until sanctions hit

By Julian Lee on 9/25/2018

LONDON (Bloomberg) -- Iran’s oil tankers are starting to disappear from global satellite tracking systems with just under six weeks to go until U.S. sanctions are due to hit the country’s exports, making it harder to keep track of the nation’s sales.

No signals have been received by shore stations or satellites from 10 of the Persian Gulf nation’s crude oil supertankers for at least a week, according to tanker tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. The most likely explanation is that the vessels’ transponders have been switched off, making it more difficult to track the their movements.

When they were last seen, the 10 vessels, which are listed below, were holding around 13 MMbbl of crude and condensate, a light form of crude extracted from gas fields. If they’re now full, that would rise to about 20 MMbbl.

Long Time, No See:

Vessel Class Last seen Last known location Cargo volume (barrels) Stated destination Days without signal Diona VLCC 03-Sep China Empty Taiwan 22 Dino I VLCC 15-Sep Fujairah 2,000,000 China 10 Sea Cliff VLCC 15-Sep Hormuz 2,000,000 China 10 Happiness I VLCC 16-Sep Hormuz 2,000,000 China 9 Navarz VLCC 16-Sep Kharg 2,000,000 Kharg Island 9 Halti VLCC 17-Sep Kharg 2,000,000 Kharg Island 8 Hedy VLCC 17-Sep Kharg 2,000,000 Kharg Island 8 Humanity VLCC 17-Sep Soroosh 1,000,000 Soroosh 8 Huge VLCC 18-Sep Fujairah Empty Persian Gulf 7 Snow VLCC 18-Sep Hormuz Empty Kharg Island 7

An 11th supertanker, the Deep Sea, last signaled on Sept. 17 as the ship was heading toward the Persian Gulf from Khor Fakkan in the United Arab Emirates, showing its destination as Iran’s Kharg Island oil export terminal. It reappeared early on Sept. 25, exiting the Persian Gulf, with its signal indicating it had taken on a full cargo destined for Vadinar in India.

The National Iranian Tanker Co. didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The disappearance of Iran’s tankers will make it increasingly difficult to monitor ship movements as the Nov. 4 deadline looms for buyers to halt purchases of Iranian crude and condensate or face being blocked from the U.S. financial system. The three full vessels last seen heading out of the Persian Gulf were all showing destinations in China.

The loss of the signals could be the result of seasonal atmospheric conditions, which can cause problems in winter in parts of the world where their capture relies on satellites, rather than shore stations. But such disruptions are usually short lived and signals should have been received from ships once they left the Persian Gulf, unless their transponders have been switched off.

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