An oil tanker owned by a China-based shipping company has recently gone dark for more than a month, reappearing under a different name in what could be an effort to skirt U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, Reuters reports, citing ship-tracking data.
The tanker in question, whose name was Pacific Bravo until early June, was suspected by the United States of carrying crude oil from Iran to China.
At the end of May, the U.S. urged Hong Kong to be on the lookout for an oil tanker carrying Iranian crude presumably on its way to China, in violation of U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
According to ship-tracking data compiled by Reuters, Pacific Bravo switched off its transponder on June 5 while it was carrying oil.
Pacific Bravo’s unique identification number—a number issued by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that stays with a ship forever regardless of its name—reappeared on tracking sites when the tanker Latin Venture activated its transponder on July 18, Reuters reports, quoting data from Refinitiv and VesselsValue. Because of the same IMO identification number, the move suggests that the tanker’s Chinese owners may have wanted to evade the U.S. sanctions on Iran by changing the name.
Beijing has never actually stopped buying Iranian oil after the U.S. removed all sanction waivers for Iran’s customers in early May.
China has said that it wouldn’t comply with the U.S. sanctions on Iranian exports. Yet, Chinese oil imports from Iran are much lower than they were just a few months ago.
The United States, for its part, is serious about going after China for importing Iranian oil.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on July 22 that the U.S. imposed sanctions on Chinese entity Zhuhai Zhenrong and its CEO Youmin Lin because “they violated U.S. law by accepting crude oil.”
“The U.S. is serious about enforcing our sanctions on the outlaw regime in Iran. So today, we’re taking action against a Chinese company that acquired Iranian oil contrary to U.S. sanctions. No entity should support the regime’s destabilizing conduct by providing it with money,” Secretary Pompeo said.
Should China decide to defy the latest U.S. tariff threat by ramping up imports of Iranian crude oil in open defiance to the U.S. sanctions on Iran, oil prices could take a significant hit and plunge by as much as $20-$30 a barrel, Bank of America Merrill Lynch warned earlier this month.