(Bloomberg) -- Iran said it sold an oil cargo on board a contested tanker sailing the Mediterranean Sea but didn’t know where the vessel was going amid U.S. efforts to block delivery of the crude.
The Adrian Darya 1, the tanker that the U.S. sought to seize in Gibraltar last week, was sailing more than halfway into the Mediterranean Sea on Monday without declaring any destination. Iran didn’t identify the buyer of the roughly 2 million-barrel cargo.
The buyer will determine where the oil is delivered, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said announcing the sale. He didn’t say when Iran sold the crude in comments carried by state-run IRNA news agency.
Iran’s tanker fleet is under intense scrutiny as the U.S. seeks to cut off the Islamic republic’s ability to sell crude, normally the country’s main export earner. Iran’s oil sales have tumbled under U.S. sanctions threatening to punish most interactions with the Iranian government over its nuclear program.
French President Emmanuel Macron renewed efforts over the weekend to save the 2015 nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic. Both Iran and other signatories to the deal oppose the U.S. President Donald Trump’s tougher measures and Macron proposed allowing the Middle Eastern producer to sell more crude in exchange for returning to full compliance with the agreement. Macron discussed the idea in meetings with Trump and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in Biarritz, the site of the Group of Seven summit.
Those discussions would likely do little to solve the immediate problem of the Adrian Darya 1. The Trump Administration is seeking to block the tanker’s voyage by threatening sanctions to stop the ship from being able to call in any port or offload any oil.
The tanker on Sunday changed the signal sent from the vessel’s satellite transponder to “For Order,” a designation meaning the ship isn’t disclosing any destination, according to Bloomberg tanker-tracking data. The Adrian Darya 1, which last week changed names from Grace 1, was sailing south of the Greek mainland, according to tanker-tracking data.
The ship had on Saturday signaled Turkey’s port of Mersin, switching from the previous target of Kalamata in Greece. Greek officials said the ship would be unwelcome after the U.S. threatened sanctions against anyone aiding the tanker, while a stop in Turkey would also pose complications in an already fraught relationship.
The vessel may seek to transfer the crude to smaller ships for delivery to Turkey or Syria and could “go dark,” turning off its satellite transponder to mask the location of any unloading. The vessel’s current trajectory could lead to any of the ports in the eastern Mediterranean or, potentially, to the Suez Canal.
The Aryan Darya 1 wouldn’t be able to transit Suez without offloading some of the oil on board since a fully laden tanker of that size would sit too deep in the water to make the passage. The Suez Canal leads to the Red Sea and from there the vessel could sail on to the Persian Gulf and Iran.
A U.S. attempt to seize the tanker before leaving Gibraltar was denied by a court in Gibraltar. A court in the territory refused the petition from the American government since, while European Union rules prohibit dealing with sanctioned entities in Syria, they are less comprehensive than U.S. sanctions law with regards to Iranian oil sales.
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