Crew of alleged fuel-smuggling vessel jailed in Iran

A court in Iran has sentenced the crew of chemical/oil products tanker Ariana (IMO 9500132) to jail as the country steps up its attempts to stem the degree of fuel smuggling from Iran to other countries in the region.

One of Iran’s means of keeping its population relatively content in the face of global sanctions is to offer heavily subsidized fuel. The inevitable by-product of this political decision has been that smuggling from Iran to elsewhere has run riot.

On October 30th last year Iran detained the Ariana, alleging that it was part of a larger smuggling ring. The chief justice of the Hormozgan Province said in court that 11.5m litres of diesel fuel, valued at the equivalent of $5m, had been found on the Ariana after it was seized. The chief justice contended that the vessel was receiving Iranian diesel that was being ferried to the ship by smaller ships from Iranian fuel barges. Two smaller vessels were seized along with the Ariana. The CJ said that the smuggling was part of a larger operation that had seen Iran recover more than 27m litres of diesel fuel, although he did not estimate how much had got through.

The tanker’s last reported position was at the Sharjah anchorage in the UAE on October 22nd 2022. The Iranians reported seizing the vessel eight days after its last AIS signal. It said that it had a crew of 21 non-Iranians.

The crew’s mobile phones were confiscated and reviewed. Prosecutors told the court that, along with documents found on the vessel, revealed the extent of the smuggling operation. They claimed to have found invoices and receipts, as well as details on the buyers and sellers. They also alleged that the records showed the vessels had been turning off its AIS to hide details of their position.

In all the operation resulted in 40 arrests. Sentences ranged from one to five years with a total of 22 years in prison for the crew members, although it was unclear how many of these were from the Ariana.

The court also ordered the impounding of a tug which it said was involved in the operation. Fines were imposed on the companies involved in the operation. The court has said that, if the fines were not paid, they would order the seizure of the Ariana along with the two other vessels with a value totalling $55m.

2016-built, Panama-flagged, 11,440 gt Ariana is owned by Inlustrem Maritime Ltd care of manager Saint James Shipping Ltd of Athens, Greece.