By Jonathan Saul, Lefteris Papadimas and Renee Maltezou
ATHENS/LONDON, May 26 (Reuters) – The United States has confiscated an Iranian oil cargo held on a Russian-operated ship near Greece and will send the cargo to the United States aboard another vessel, three sources familiar with the matter said.
Greek authorities last month impounded the Iranian-flagged Pegas, with 19 Russian crew members on board, near the coast of the southern island of Evia due to EU sanctions.
They said the ship was impounded as part of EU sanctions on Russia for the invasion of Ukraine. However the vessel was later released due to confusion about sanctions over its owners.
The tanker, renamed Lana on March 1 and flying the Iranian flag since May 1, has remained near Greek waters since then. It was previously Russian-flagged.
A source at Greece’s shipping ministry said on Thursday that the U.S. Department of Justice had “informed Greece that the cargo on the vessel is Iranian oil”.
“The cargo has been transferred to another ship that was hired by the U.S.,” the source added, without providing further details.
The development comes after the United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on what it described as a Russian-backed oil smuggling and money laundering network for Iran‘s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, even as Washington tries to revive a nuclear deal with Iran. Read full story
U.S. and Russian officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The confiscation was confirmed by a separate Western source familiar with the matter, who added that the cargo was transferred onto the Liberia-flagged tanker Ice Energy, which is operated by Greek shipping company Dynacom.
A source at Dynacom confirmed that a “transfer of the oil was underway from the vessel to Dynacom’s Ice Energy, which will then sail to the United States”.
Iran‘s IRNA state news agency reported on Wednesday that its foreign ministry summoned the charge d’affaires of Greece’s embassy in Tehran following the seizure of the cargo of a ship which was “under the banner of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Greek waters and he was informed of the strong objections” of Iran‘s government.
Greek government officials could not confirm the information.
The Ice Energy on Thursday reported its position as anchored close to Evia, ship tracking data on Eikon showed.
Pegas was among five vessels designated by the U.S. on Feb. 22 – 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. The vessel’s Russian owner Transmorflot was subsequently designated on May 8.
U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which monitors Iran-related tanker traffic, said the Pegas had 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.
In 2020, Washington confiscated four cargoes of Iranian fuel that were bound for Venezuela and transferred them with the help of undisclosed foreign partners onto two other ships which then sailed to the United States.
Those seizures took place after a U.S. district court issued an order for the shipments cargoes in a civil forfeiture case.
President Joe Biden’s administration has been engaged in indirect talks to restart a 2015 deal former President Donald Trump abandoned, under which world powers lifted international financial sanctions on Tehran in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.
While talks had appeared close to resurrecting the nuclear deal in March, they stalled over last-minute Russian demands and whether Washington might drop the Revolutionary Guards from its terrorism list.
Washington’s Iran envoy said on Wednesday the chances of reviving the nuclear deal were shaky at best, and Washington was ready to tighten sanctions on Iran.
(Additional reporting by Dubai buro; editing by Jason Neely and David Evans)