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US blacklists tankers linked to Iranian oil-smuggling network

US Treasury Department sanctions 11 tankers, 17 companies and six individuals

The US alleges a Middle East Gulf-based network blended Iranian oil with Indian products to conceal its origin. It further alleges the network modified and counterfeited the blend’s certificates of origins and quality and sold it abroad to support Iran’s Quds Force and Hizbollah

THE US has blacklisted a sanctions-busting network it says sold oil worth hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force and Lebanon-based Hizbollah.

Eleven vessels, 17 companies and six individuals were sanctioned by the US in one of the broadest efforts against Iran’s oil trade in recent years.

The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, known as Ofac, said the Middle East Gulf-based network used storage units in the United Arab Emirates’ port of Sharjah, where it blended Indian products with Iranian oil. It then modified or forged the certificates of origin and quality of the blended oil and sold it abroad.

It alleges that Ukrainian national Viktor Artemov played a central role orchestrating the oil shipments, overseeing a vast network of shipping, energy and other companies that were integral to the illicit trade.

“The designations show that Iran will do whatever it can to export its oil — spoofing Automatic Identification System transponders, blending oil and forging bills of lading,” said US monitoring group United Against Nuclear Iran chief of staff Claire Jungman. “These are some of the largest designations on Iran’s oil network from the current administration and while there is still more to be done, this is an excellent step towards stopping the illicit activity and highlighting some of tactics Iran is using for the maritime industry.”

Mr Artemov is a director and owns 50% of Petro Naviero, according to Ofac. Through Petro’s subsidiaries, he controls nine tankers that were used in the illicit oil shipments and were sanctioned along with the company. 

The designated vessels are Liberia-flagged suezmaxes Julia A (IMO: 9236353) and Lara I (IMO: 9231767); Djibouti-flagged panamax product tankers Bueno (IMO: 9282443), Bluefins (IMO: 9221657), Boceanica (IMO: 9267132) and B Luminosa (IMO: 9256016); Panama-flagged very large crude carriers Adisa (IMO: 9304667) and Nolan (IMO: 9179701); and Panama-flagged aframax Zephyr I (IMO: 9255880).

Ofac also sanctioned Cook Islands-flagged aframax Rain Drop (IMO: 9233208), and Djibouti-flagged VLCC Young Yong (IMO: 9194127).

According to UANI, B Luminosa also engaged in a STS transfer with Iranian tanker Sonia I (IMO: 9357365) off Amuay Bay, Venezuela, in June, while Adisa, Lara I and Nolan have all previously transported Venezuelan oil.

Bluefins, B Luminosa, Bueno, and Boceanica turned off their AIS transponders in 2021, Lloyd’s List Intelligence data shows.

In addition to the vessels, Ofac also targeted nine shipmanaging companies that Mr Artemov leveraged to support and manage the fleet.

It sanctioned Marshall Islands-based Azul Vista Shipping Corp, Vista Clara Shipping Corp, and Technology Bright International Co Limited, who own the Julia A, Lara I and Young Yong, respectively, according to Ofac. The vessel Julia A was used to ship sanctioned oil to China, while Lara I transported the network’s blended oil via “illicit ship-to-ship transfers near Singapore”.

Young Yong’s captain falsified its AIS data and “updated Artemov and other Ava Petroleum employees on the ship’s status and its loading of approximately 1.8m barrels of oil”, according to Ofac. The ageing super tanker also recently ran aground off the Singapore Strait laden with 284,429 tonnes of crude.

Also sanctioned is Marshall Islands-based Monumont Ship Management Limited, which manages the Zephyr I, Boceanica and Julia A, and Harbour Ship Management Limited, which is the owner of Bluefins, B Luminosa and Bueno and operates Boceanica.

It also targeted Turkey-based Expanse Ship Management Limited, the technical manager for Bueno and Bluefins and a former technical and ISM manager for the B Luminosa. Expanse is also the technical and ISM manager of Iran-flagged suezmax Shadi (IMO: 9233222), Lloyd’s List Intelligence data shows.

Marshall Islands-based Pontus Navigation Corp and Triton Navigation Corp, which own Nolan and Adisa respectively, are sanctioned for being controlled by Mr Artemov.

Also sanctioned is Marshall Islands-based Blue Berri Shipping, which owns Rain Drop. The tanker engaged in a ship-to-ship transfer with another vessel under Mr Artemov’s control, according to Ofac.

Other sanctioned companies headed by Mr Artemov in the scheme include Ava Petroleum, used to facilitate the illicit oil sales, and shell company Centrum Maritime, which controlled Pontus and Triton and was used to purchase and sell vessels. In addition, Energotrade Plus DMCC, Intrepid Navigators and Rising Tide Shipping were sanctioned for being owned, controlled or directed by Mr Artemov.

Ofac also designated Dubai-based Al Hakeel Al Aswad Oil Trading and Iran-based Gilda Tar Karvan. Al Hakeel was a front company managed by Mr Artemov’s partner, Iranian national Edman Nafrieh, who is also the chief executive of Gilda Tar. Al Hakeel sold Iranian oil to Mr Artemov’s shell companies Centrum and Ava.

Other sanctioned individuals are Iranian nationals Edman Nafrieh, who is alleged to have received orders from high ranking Iranian officials, and Rouzbeh Zahedi, who it is said  worked with the network to help transport the oil, according to Ofac; Mohamed El Zien, a Lebanese national and Hizbollah member, who was part of the network and is the son of a high-ranking Hizbollah communications director; Gregorio Fazzone, a Swiss national, who is the sole board member and director of Ava Petroluem; and Tatiana Ryabikova, a French national working for Ava Petroleum.

“The individuals running this illicit network use a web of shell companies and fraudulent tactics including document falsification to obfuscate the origins of Iranian oil, sell it on the international market, and evade sanctions,” said Brian E. Nelson, under secretary of the US Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. “Market participants should be vigilant of Hizbollah and the IRGC-QF’s attempts to generate revenue from oil smuggling to enable their terrorist activities around the world.”


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