Sun, Nov 04, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Iranian oil tankers ‘go dark’ as sanctions loom

AFP, TEHRAN

Working from their small offices in Stockholm, analysts at a new watchdog that monitors global oil shipments have been run ragged by Iran’s efforts to skirt US sanctions.

Late last month, every single one of Iran’s vessels “went dark,” switching off their transponders to avoid international tracking systems — a first since TankerTrackers.com began operating in 2016.

The ships can now only be tracked manually using satellite imagery.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen a blanket black-out. It’s very unique,” TankerTrackers cofounder Samir Madani told reporters.

It is part of efforts by Iran and its customers to keep oil flowing ahead of a new US embargo to begin today.

“Iran has around 30 vessels in the [Persian] Gulf area, so the past 10 days have been very tricky, but it hasn’t slowed us down. We are keeping watch visually,” cofounder Lisa Ward said.

Huge improvements in commercially available satellite imagery in recent years have allowed firms like TankerTrackers to watch the progress of vessels on a daily basis, where once images would have come only once a week or more.

Iran hopes less transparency will allow it to keep selling oil after the US reimposes the last set of sanctions lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal, which Washington abandoned in May.

However, Joel Hancock, from analysis firm Natixis, said this did not mean their sales would necessarily remain high.

“The main issue with tanker trackers is they are tracking exports, maybe not sales,” Hancock told reporters, adding that the ships could just be moving oil to storage facilities in China or elsewhere.

Another method — used during the previous sanctions period from 2010 to 2015 — is to keep oil on huge tankers off the Gulf Coast.

TankerTrackers said there were six vessels, with a total of 11 million barrels of capacity, parked offshore as floating storage containers — freeing up port capacity and allowing for quick deliveries.

Although precise figures are rarely available in the notoriously opaque oil market, most analysts say Iran’s exports dropped from about 2.5 million barrels per day in April to roughly 1.6 million last month.

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