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Report: US orders seizure of 2 million barrels of suspected Iranian oil shipment

Iran Oil Tanker (Alf van Beem/WikiCommons)
January 26, 2021

The U.S. is attempting to seize a shipment of oil it believes came from Iran by way of a Liberian-flagged oil tanker, the Achilleas this week.

Sources familiar with the seizure efforts, who spoke with Bloomberg, said the U.S. initiated the effort to seize the Achilleas, after the ship’s Greek owner, Capital Ship Management Corp., told U.S. authorities they believed they unknowingly accepted a 2 million barrel shipment of Iranian crude oil. Following the notification, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a seizure order for the oil, according to Bloomberg.

According to Bloomberg’s sources, the effort to seize the Iranian oil shipment began while President Donald Trump was still in office, before President Joe Biden took over on Wednesday, Jan. 20.

According to shipping documents obtained by Bloomberg, the Achilleas received the shipment of oil from another oil tanker at the United Arab Emirates port of Fujairah in November. According to the shipping documents, the Achilleas was scheduled carry the oil shipment to the Omani capital city of Muscat.

According to the commercial ship tracking website, Marine Traffic, the Achilleas was located off the southwest coast of Africa, near Namibia and South Africa.

Bloomberg reported the vessel switched off its tracking system between Jan. 1 and Jan. 13. The vessel is now heading across the South Atlantic Ocean, according to Bloomberg. Marine Traffic reports the vessel is now destined to arrive at the Galveston Offshore Lightering Area (GOLA), a U.S. offshore offloading terminal located in the Gulf of Mexico, near Galveston, Texas.

The Department of Justice declined a Bloomberg request for comment on the Iranian oil seizure effort.

This latest U.S. effort to seize an Iranian oil shipment comes after the U.S. moved to seize four other Iranian oil shipments bound for Venezuela in August.

President Biden has said he wants to improve U.S. relations with Iran, including by renegotiating the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, which President Trump withdrew from in 2018. Efforts to improve U.S. relations with Iran are a “long way” off, according to Biden secretary of state nominee Anthony Blinken.

The latest U.S. effort to seize the Iranian oil could also complicate efforts between the Biden administration and Iran.

After pulling the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, the Trump administration reimposed sanctions on Iran as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign.

According to Bloomberg, as of December, Iran was pumping about 2 million barrels of crude oil per day, about half of what it was producing when the U.S. was still part of the Iran nuclear deal. Of Iran’s current oil output, only about half of it is exported, primarily to China.