Let’s plug the sanctions gaps that enable Iran to sell oil to China and Venezuela

Photo: Getty

For all the sanctions on Iran, Tehran has secured willing customers for its crucial oil and gas exports in the world’s leading authoritarian and communist regimes: Venezuela and China. Caracas has taken a creative route, first paying gold for oil and then bartering its own heavy crude for Iranian gas condensates. Beijing, by contrast, pays cash straight up – $280 billion in 2019, followed by a deal worth $400 billion this year. Naturally, this illicit trade weakens efforts to compel Iran to moderate its destructive behavior and end its pursuit of nuclear weapons, potentially harming U.S. interests and national security.

By The Hill – Daniel Roth and Claire Jungman

Oct 19, 2021

Yet Iran’s success in courting Venezuela and China does not mean that U.S. sanctions have failed. Sanctions have forced the regime to trade with a few like-minded authoritarian regimes. And crucially, sanctions have forced Iran to go to extraordinary lengths to conceal its illicit shipping commerce: satellite tracking deceptions, doctoring of records, flag- and name-switching, physical camouflage, and a host of other maritime violations.

With a better understanding of the shipping subterfuge, the U.S. and its allies can make the whole rogue enterprise prohibitively costly for all parties, plugging enforcement gaps and truly squeezing Tehran.

For instance, FELICITY was the first Iranian-flagged vessel to load Venezuelan crude, according to TankerTruckers.com. It reportedly journeyed to Venezuela’s Jose Anchorage using subversive and illegal techniques, including a shutdown of its tracking beacon. Before arriving in Venezuela, FELICITY was last seen via its satellite transponder 13 months prior in Taizhou Anchorage in China, according to Marine Traffic – meaning that the vessel sailed all the way to Venezuela with its transponder off. Disabling the transponder is a favored tactic to obscure the movement of goods, but it’s also a dangerous violation of International Maritime Organization safety rules. FELICITY even turned to more rudimentary methods to hide its activities – undergoing a fresh paint job in Venezuela.

Vessels moving Iranian oil carry falsified records that attest to their cargo originating in countries such as Oman, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iraq and Malaysia. By engaging in ship-to-ship (STS) transfers of oil from Iranian-flagged vessels to tankers owned by non-Iranian firms, Iran can obscure the origin of the oil and gas, as well as the trade itself for its customers. STS transfers are often preceded by vessels “spoofing” their location to fake their position, sometimes by thousands of nautical miles, creating yet another dangerous situation.

Read More: The Hill – Let’s plug the sanctions gaps that enable Iran to sell oil to China and Venezuela

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