Middle EastTankers

Fate of Iranian VLCC in the Med remains unclear

Currently midway between Spain and Sardinia, tanker spotters from across the world are keeping a close eye on the progress of the Adrian Darya-1, the Iranian VLCC formerly known as Grace 1, freed by Gibraltar authorities over the weekend, but still very much at the centre of a geopolitical tussle with the United States.

Although the ship is still flagging its destination as the port of Kalamata in Greece, under pressure from the US, who has said aiding the ship is akin to helping terrorists, the Greek deputy foreign minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis has said the ship is not welcome to call.

To get through the Suez Canal the fully laden VLCC will need to offload a sizeable portion of its cargo. However, US officials have warned all Mediterranean ports not to cooperate with the ship, which Washington claims has links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a branch of the military that the US deems a terrorist organisation.

“We have made clear that anyone who touches it, anyone who supports it, anyone who allows a ship to dock is at risk of receiving sanctions from the United States,” Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said yesterday.

Speculation has been mounting that US special forces have been practicing an operation to storm and take over the Iranian VLCC, something that Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, warned today could see the Strait of Hormuz become off-limits.

“World powers know that in the case that oil is completely sanctioned and Iran’s oil exports are brought down to zero, international waterways can’t have the same security as before,” Rouhani said.

Meanwhile, the UK-flagged Stena Impero remains in Iranian detention for its 34th day, despite Stena Bulk’s president and CEO, Erik Hanell, holding talks in Stockholm yesterday with Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister. There had been speculation of a swap if Grace 1 was freed, despite official denials.

Hanell commented yesterday: “A constructive dialogue was had and we shared information around the case. It was important for us to emphasise the importance of the release of the 23 crew members of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationalities, who have now been held onboard for nearly five weeks and whose families were getting extremely concerned about their loved ones. Also for the release of the Swedish owned vessel Stena Impero.”

Stena Bulk has written to all the leaders of the countries who have crew members detained onboard Stena Impero seeking support for their release.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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