A decline in US muscle on the global stage, partly as a result of the forthcoming election and partly a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and new tactics on the part of Iranian oil transporters, has seen Iranian oil exports rise sharply in September, despite US sanctions,
Reuters cited three assessments based on tanker tracking which it said had thrown a lifeline to the Islamic Republic and its collapsing economy.
As was reported at last week’s IUMI conference by big data analyst Windward, vessels had moved away from simply turning off their AIS, deploying instead a strategy of short-term “spoof” AISs, which enable a ship to move off-grid for sufficient time to engage in a Ship-To-Ship transfer of oil (rather than heading for a port). That effectively “laundered” the oil into a commodity not readily identifiable as Iranian in origin.
Exports from Iran had shrunk from more than 2.5m bpd since the US pulled out of a 2015 agreement and reimposed sanctions in 2018.
Reuters said that data from TankerTrackers and two other firms indicated that exports were rising in September, to somewhere between 400,000 bpd and 1.5m bpd. The amount was twice that of August, TankerTrackers data showed, and around 11% of it was condensate.
The TankerTrackers data showed that almost half of Iranian exports were picked up by foreign vessels via ship-to-ship transfers.
Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh has said that oil documents were forged to hide the origin of Iranian cargoes. “What we export is not under Iran’s name. The documents are changed over and over, as well as specifications,” he was quoted as saying in parliament by state oil company NIOC’s website.
Since the US reimposed sanctions, Iran has stopped providing production figures to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), part of its development of a “resistance economy”
Refinitiv Eikon has reported no crude and condensate exports so far in September.
Iran has been storing unsold oil in tankers at sea. Onshore storage has increased but the volume in floating storage has fallen in 2020 by about 20m barrels, said Reuters, citing separate data provided by OilX and Kpler. This suggests that the some of the floating storage has found a home, with China a leading candidate as the importer, according to speculation.