Exclusive: Iran said to deploy aging foreign tankers, avoiding sanctions
By Jonathan Saul
LONDON (Reuters) - Iran is using old tankers, saved from the scrapyard by foreign middlemen, to ship out oil to China in ways that avoid Western sanctions, say officials involved with sanctions who showed Reuters corroborating documents.
The officials, from states involved in imposing sanctions to pressure Iran to curb its nuclear program, said the tankers - worth little more than scrap value - were a new way for Iran to keep its oil exports flowing by exploiting the legal limitations on Western powers' ability to make sanctions stick worldwide.
Officials showed Reuters shipping documents to support their allegation that eight ships, each of which can carry close to a day's worth of Iran's pre-sanctions exports, have loaded Iranian oil at sea. Publicly available tracking and other data are consistent with those documents and allegations.
"The tankers have been used for Iranian crude," one official said. "They are part of Iran's sanctions-busting strategy."
Dimitris Cambis, the Greek businessman who last year bought the ships - eight very large crude carriers, or VLCCs - to carry Middle East crude to Asia, flatly denied doing any business with Tehran or running clandestine shipments of its oil to China.
Cambis said he had not been involved in shipping before but had bought the tankers as part of a new venture he runs from the United Arab Emirates. He denied trading with Iran - though he has contacts there from his previous work in the oil industry.
He denied his vessels have loaded oil from Iran while at anchor in the Gulf. Known as ship-to-ship transfers, or STS, such movements are hard to track as crews can switch off tracking beacons or not update their recorded positions for periods to conceal that one vessel has come alongside another.
Cambis also explained a stop in Iran by one of his tankers - recorded in publicly available tracking data - as having been only for an emergency repair, not to load an oil cargo. Continued...