Venezuela mimics Iranian sanction-evasion tactics

Venezuelan vessels could be using similar methods to Iran – ship-to-ship transfers en route from source to destination – in the same area off Malaysia to disguise the origin and destination of their cargoes to China, reports Lloyd’s List.

Vessel Eurovoyager, a Liberian-flagged suezmax tanker operated by Piraeus-based Eurotankers, recently took on a cargo of crude from another suezmax, Liberian-flagged Delta Eurydice, in waters off Malacca. The latter is operated by Delta Tankers, and had loaded in Puerto la Cruz around May 13th, according to vessel-tracking data. After arriving off Singapore around June 27th the tanker had remained at anchor off Malacca before the STS.

The location in waters off Malaysia is also where Chinese-owned VLCCs conduct similar STS operations with a shuttle service of tankers shipping between there and Iran to transfer cargo. Eurovoyager subsequently headed for the Chinese port of Qingdao.

Iranian exports have declined to around 600,000 bpd a month from more than 2m before the reimposition of sanctions, and nearly all of it uses techniques to avoid detection. Venezuelan exports were at about  920,000 bpd in June.

With Iran, suezmax tanker Masal, which is owned by the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), transferred a 1m barrel cargo of oil to an undisclosed ship on July 11th while at anchor in waters in the Red Sea near the Suez Canal, vessel-tracking data shows. Masal is one of four tankers known to have shipped Iranian crude to Syria in the past three months. All Syria-bound vessels turn off their automatic identification system responders during the STS transfer and afterwards while sailing, making it difficult to immediately identify the tanker that took the cargo.

NITC-owned Sylvia I also appears to be heading for Syria without any AIS signal, having exited the Suez Canal on July 5th.

Iran is using its own fleet of NITC tankers, which include as many as 36 VLCCs and suezmaxes to lift crude, turning off AIS transponders that transmit vessel location while loading, and also during ship-to-ship transfers to obfuscate the destination and origin. A further flotilla of Chinese-owned fleets of at least six VLCCs, plus several suezmaxes and six product tankers is also deploying the same strategy to ship condensate and crude to Chinese ports.

Flag-shopping and changing classification societies are changed to further complicate detection and avoid punishment.