(CNSNews.com) – The Iranian supertanker targeted by the U.S. over alleged attempts to sell oil to the Assad regime on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is lying off the coast of Syria, and has evidently turned off its transponders.
Since about noon U.S. eastern time on Monday (1600 UTC), there have been no Automatic Identification System (AIS) broadcasts from the Adrian Darya I.
On the website MarineTraffic.com its last given position, recorded by an AIS station in Larnaca, Cyprus, was roughly 55 miles southwest of the Syrian port of Tartus and 75 miles from the Baniyas oil refinery.
Late last month the ship’s personnel changed its listed destination in its AIS data from Kalamata in Greece to Mersin in Turkey, and then stopped providing an intended destination altogether as it plied across the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
On Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department slapped sanctions on the ship and its captain, the most recent in a series of measures aimed at stopping the transaction. Earlier the administration had warned Greece and other Mediterranean countries not to facilitate the ship’s journey, after an unsuccessful U.S. bid to prevent authorities in Gibraltar from letting it leave in mid-August.
For six weeks before that, the Adrian Darya I (then named Grace I) had been detained in the British overseas territory, on the grounds it was violating European Union sanctions on the Assad regime by transporting 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil to Baniyas.
The Iranian regime denied that Syria was the intended destination, and Gibraltar allowed the vessel to leave on the strength of a “written assurance” from Tehran that it would not head for countries under E.U. sanctions.
As predicted by vessel watchers, the tanker looks now to be preparing to transfer its crude oil to another ship or ships, before it makes for the Suez Canal and home to Iran. (Supertankers cannot traverse the Suez Canal fully laden, which was why the Grace I last spring took the much longer route around the southern tip of Africa on its way to the Mediterranean.)
Once a ship-to-ship transfer is made, presumably in Syrian territorial waters, Syria looks to be a likely destination for the oil, despite the regime’s denials and “written assurance.”
“We have reliable information that the tanker is underway and headed to Tartus, Syria,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Saturday. “I hope it changes course. It was a big mistake to trust [Iranian Foreign Minister Javad] Zarif.”
The regime said last week the oil had been sold to an undisclosed buyer.
On Friday the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the Adrian Darya I and its captain, Kumar Akhilesh, a 43-year-old Indian national, for transporting oil “ultimately benefitting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force,” a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.
“Vessels like the Adrian Darya 1 enable the IRGC-QF to ship and transfer large volumes of oil, which they attempt to mask and sell illicitly to fund the regime’s malign activities and propagate terrorism,” said the department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Sigal Mandelker.
“Anyone providing support to the Adrian Darya 1 risks being sanctioned. The path to relief is to change course and not allow the IRGC-QF to profit from illicit oil sales.”
The department said the IRGC-QF has provided material assistance to numerous terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian self-rule territories, “making it a key component of Iran’s destabilizing regional activities.”
Any property in the U.S. belonging to the targeted entities is frozen, they are denied access to the U.S. financial system, and transactions with them carry the risk of sanctions or enforcement action.
“Since the vessel’s mid-August release from detention in Gibraltar, Kumar Akhilesh has assumed the role of captain. He is now a designated individual and will suffer significant negative consequences,” the State Department announced after the Treasury Department action. “Any who would consider supporting the IRGC should heed this warning.”
“The Iranian regime continues to foment regional conflicts, develop and proliferate ballistic missiles, hold foreign citizens hostage, brutalize its own people, and sponsor terrorism on an unprecedented scale,” it said. “It is also expanding its uranium enrichment-related activities.”
“The United States will continue to increase pressure on the Iranian regime until it changes its behavior.”