By Renee Maltezou and Jonathan Saul
ATHENS, April 21 (Reuters) – A Russian tanker impounded by Greece this week and reportedly carrying Iranian oil will be released amid confusion about sanctions on its owners.
“The coast guard has been ordered by the anti-money laundering authority to release the vessel,” a Greek government official said, without providing further details.
On Tuesday, Greek authorities impounded the 115,500-deadweight tonnage Russian-flagged Pegas, with 19 Russian crew members on board, on the southern coast of the island of Evia.
They said the ship was impounded as part of EU sanctions on Russia for the invasion of Ukraine.
Earlier this month, the EU banned Russian-flagged vessels from its ports, with some exemptions, as it adopted new sanctions against Russia for what the Kremlin describes as a “special military operation”.
The Pegas tanker was also among five vessels sanctioned by the United States on Feb. 22, 2022 – two days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – as part of broader sanctions against Promsvyazbank, a bank Washington described as critical to Russia’s defence sector.
Promsvyazbank said it and its unit PSB Lizing were not the owners of the tanker as it was bought back by its owner in April 2021.
Promsvyazbank did not name the new owner. PSB Lizing said the owner was TransMorFlot. TransMorFlot was not available for comment.
A Greek sources close to the matter said that following checks there were no legal grounds to continue impounding the Pegas as the ship had recently changed ownership and its new owner was not on an EU sanctions list.
On Tuesday, U.S. State Department welcomed Greece’s efforts to implement the sanctions “initiated in response to Russia’s brutal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine” and said it was aware of reports that the tanker was loaded with Iranian crude oil.
Eikon tanker tracking shows the Pegas has been floating around the Mediterranean since September 2021 after loading in the Persian Gulf in August.
Three industry sources said it had Iranian oil on board but struggled to sell it to a customer in Europe, which alongside the United States has a ban on Iranian oil.
U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which monitors Iran-related tanker traffic, also said the Pegas loaded around 700,000 barrels of crude oil from Iran‘s Sirri Island on Aug. 19, 2021.
Prior to this load, the Pegas transported over 3 million barrels of Iranian oil in 2021, with over 2.6 million of those barrels ending up in China, according to UANI analysis.
A Greek coast guard official confirmed it had received the decision made by the anti-money laundering unit, an independent authority, but said the order had not yet been officially served to Pegas.
The Pegas, which was renamed Lana in March, had earlier reported an engine problem. It was headed to the southern Peloponnese peninsula to offload its cargo onto another tanker but rough seas forced it to moor just off Karystos where it was seized, according to the Athens News Agency.
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Alison Williams, Kirsten Donovan and David Evans)