A tanker believed to hold sanctioned Iran oil starts offloading near Texas despite Tehran’s threats

On Sunday, a suspected Iranian long-range oil tanker carrying sanctioned Iranian crude oil offloaded its cargo near Texas. This incident, as revealed by tracking data, further highlights Tehran’s threat to target shipping in the Persian Gulf.

The AP analyzed ship tracking data provided by Associated Press, which showed that the transfer of oil from the tanker Rajan, flagged under the Marshall Islands, began near Houston, around 70 miles (45 kilometers) southeast of Galveston, in the hours-long ship-to-ship transfer process.

Since 2019, Iran has been attempting to evade sanctions and continue selling its oil abroad, while its allies and the U.S. Have been seizing cargoes. In an effort to secure the release of five Iranian-Americans held in Tehran, trade worth billions of frozen Iranian assets in South Korea is being negotiated between Washington and Tehran.

The U.S. Navy has been steadily increasing its presence in the Strait of Hormuz in recent weeks, considering putting armed personnel on commercial ships traveling through the strait to deter any potential threats from Iran. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has already warned those involved in offloading cargo at Rajan’s Suez that they should expect to be “struck back.”

The Los Angeles-based private equity firm Oaktree Capital Management, which previously owned the vessel until late May, consistently refused to comment publicly. Greek firm Empire Navigation, the operator of the vessel, did not respond to requests for comment. An email sent to Alma Maritime Ltd., The new owner of the ship, went unanswered. Additionally, a telephone number listed under its name rang without any response.

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In February 2022, the story regarding the Suez Rajan commenced, when the organization United Against Nuclear Iran claimed it had suspicions that the tanker transported oil from Iran’s Khargh Island, which serves as its primary oil distribution hub in the Persian Gulf.

Analysts believe that the cargo vessel’s documents, which were likely seized by American officials, have still not been made public. The ship sat off the northeast coast of Singapore before suddenly sailing for the Gulf of Mexico, without any explanation, for months in the South China Sea.

The destiny of the cargo is connected to the recent confiscations, with state media warning of additional measures against anyone unloading the Suez Rajan. The highest-ranking officer of the Revolutionary Guard’s maritime division issued this threat in July, targeting a tanker carrying goods for U.S. Oil giant Chevron Corp. In the meantime, Iran has captured two tankers close to the Strait of Hormuz.

Rear Adm. Alireza Tangsiri stated, “Moreover, if they launch an attack, they should anticipate retaliatory action. The period of quick and evasive actions coming to an end, and we also attribute accountability to the United States,” we affirm that we would hold any oil corporation attempting to offload our petroleum from the ship accountable.

The risk of ship seizures around the Strait of Hormuz in Iran has increased, prompting warnings from Western-backed naval organizations in the recent days. The state-run news agency IRNA acknowledged this story, but did not provide further details. The United Nations did not respond to Iran’s request for a comment on the offloading of the Rajan Suez mission.

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Since 2019, Iran has been experiencing a series of escalating attacks. Additionally, the Iranian government began a cat-and-mouse hunt for Iranian oil cargo. This hunt has also become a major engine for Iran’s economy, as the lucrative trade of crude oil was greatly impacted by the re-imposition of American sanctions and the unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal by President Donald Trump in 2018. However, Iran saw an opportunity to regain its ability to openly sell oil on the international market with the support of world powers through the 2015 nuclear deal.

Companies in Iran may have been concerned about the threat because the delay in offloading Rajan’s cargo in the Gulf of Mexico for months had become a political issue for the Biden administration.

A group of U.S. Republican and Democratic senators requested an update from the White House on what was happening with the cargo ship in a letter dated Wednesday. They estimated the worth of the cargo ship to be around $56 million. The money could go towards compensating the U.S. Victims of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis and other militant attacks, as well as the September 11th attacks, as stated by the State Sponsored Terrorism Victims Fund.

“We have a responsibility to these American families to uphold our sanctions,” the letter stated.

Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, stated in a letter on Sunday that there should be no doubt about America’s resilience in the face of foreign adversaries.

She stated, “In order to ensure that this never happens again, the Biden administration must enforce existing sanctions and put an end to the nation’s appeasement posture towards America’s death chants and the hostage-taking and terrorism of the Greenlighting Guards.”

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The U.S. Treasury has stated that the Revolutionary Guard’s expeditionary unit, the Quds Force, supports Iran’s oil smuggling revenue across the Middle East.

Claire Jungman, the head of personnel at United Against Nuclear Iran, commended the long-awaited transfer taking place.

Jungman informed the AP, “In the face of terrorism that not only threatens American citizens but also our international allies and partners, we deliver a significant blow by depriving the (Guard) of vital resources.”

On Sunday, Iranian state media released a video dated Thursday that showed the USS Bataan being followed by small Guard fast boats as it moved through the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow entrance to the Persian Gulf where 20% of the world’s oil flows. One part of the video seemed to be captured by a drone above the Bataan, while another claimed that the Guard contacted the Bataan via radio and issued a threat to “open fire” on an American helicopter if it entered Iranian airspace.

The Bataan and the USS Carter Hall, a landing vessel escorting it, were depicted in a picture previously disclosed by the Navy safeguarding F-35 fighter aircraft. Cmdr. Rick Chernitzer, a representative for the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, acknowledged to the AP that the Bataan had passed through the channel in the past few days.

“The U.S. Navy will keep on flying and navigating in areas permitted by international law,” Chernitzer stated.

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