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Tanker Hauling Iran Oil Remains at Large With No Destination

Cagan Koc and Catherine Traywick

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. sanctioned a supertanker hauling Iranian oil across the Mediterranean, two weeks after announcing plans to seize the vessel.

The Adrian Darya 1 and its captain are both being targeted by the Treasury Department, according to a statement Friday evening. Such vessels enable the elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to “ship and transfer large volumes of oil, which they attempt to mask and sell illicitly to fund the regime’s malign activities and propagate terrorism,” Sigal Mandelker, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in the statement.

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a tweet late Friday that the government has reliable information that the tanker is headed to Tartus, Syria, criticizing Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Javad Zarif for allegedly guaranteeing to the U.K. that the vessel would not head there.

“It was a big mistake to trust Zarif,” Pompeo said. “I hope it changes course.”

The ship had signaled earlier on Friday that it would sail to Iskenderun, reaching the port in Turkey’s Mediterranean coast on Saturday, although the country’s foreign minister said the vessel would not be docking there. Previously named the Grace 1, the vessel was seized in early July by British Royal Marines and taken to Gibraltar on suspicion it would ship oil to Syria in breach of sanctions. It was subsequently released, invoking the wrath of the U.S.

“The Iranian tanker is headed to Lebanon,” Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, told journalists in Oslo. For its part, Lebanon said it didn’t receive any request to allow the ship entry and such a delivery would be unusual.

The tanker, which appears to still have its 2 million barrel cargo on board, has signaled multiple destinations in recent days, originally showing Kalamata in Greece, then Mersin in Turkey, then more recently “for order” -- a term meaning the captain is awaiting instructions about what the vessel will do next.

“As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these targets that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported” to the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the agency said.

The ship has been keenly watched within the oil industry since Gibraltar released it over U.S. objections on Aug. 15. The following day, the Trump administration issued a warrant for the arrest of the vessel and all oil aboard, citing violations of U.S. sanctions-related laws. Yet the Adrian Darya 1 sailed away from the U.K. territory without incident. Iran, which claimed it couldn’t be transparent about the ship’s movements due to American sanctions, later said it sold the cargo on the ship to an unspecified buyer but didn’t know the final destination.

Tupras Not Buyer

Earlier this week, Tupras, by far Turkey’s biggest oil refiner, said it’s not the buyer of the cargo on board the Adrian Darya 1.

Lebanese Energy Minister Nada Khoury says her ministry “doesn’t buy crude oil from any country and Lebanon doesn’t have a refinery” to process a cargo.

“There is no request to allow oil tanker Adrian Darya 1 to Lebanon,” she said on Twitter.

In practice, the tanker may not actually go into a port. A transfer of its cargo at sea looks more realistic. There are few if any likely ports in the eastern Mediterranean with the depth to receive a ship as big as Adrian Darya 1 when it has cargo on board, according to shipbrokers and data compiled by Bloomberg.

--With assistance from Brian Wingfield and Alaa Shahine.

To contact the reporters on this story: Cagan Koc in Istanbul at ckoc2@bloomberg.net;Catherine Traywick in Denver at ctraywick@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Onur Ant at oant@bloomberg.net, ;Lin Noueihed at lnoueihed@bloomberg.net, Carlos Caminada, Peter Blumberg

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