Iranian tanker sought by US heads to unknown destination

An Iranian flag flutters on board the Adrian Darya oil tanker, formerly known as Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar on August 18, 2019. (AFP / Johnny Bugeja)
Updated 19 August 2019
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Iranian tanker sought by US heads to unknown destination

  • GPS data on Marinetraffic.com showed the Iran-flagged Adrian Darya 1 moving shortly before midnight
  • US officials say that the oil aboard the ship was worth some $130 million and that it was destined for a designated terror organization

GIBRALTAR: An Iranian supertanker hauling $130 million worth of light crude oil that the US suspects to be tied to a sanctioned organization lifted its anchor and begun moving away from Gibraltar late on Sunday.
The trail left by GPS data on Marinetraffic.com, a vessel tracking service, showed the Iran-flagged Adrian Darya 1, previously known as Grace 1, moving shortly before midnight. The tanker slowly went south before steering eastwards toward a narrow stretch of international waters separating Morocco and the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula.
Iran’s ambassador to Britain, Hamid Baeidinejad, confirmed in a post on Twitter that the oil tanker was headed to international waters. Questions to the embassy about where it was going were not immediately returned.
The vessel had been detained for a month in the British overseas territory for allegedly attempting to breach European Union sanctions on Syria. Gibraltar authorities rejected an eleventh-hour attempt by the United States’ to reseize the oil tanker on Sunday, arguing that EU regulations are less strict than US sanctions on Iran.
The tanker’s release comes amid a growing confrontation between Iran and the West after President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago.
Shortly after the tanker’s detention in early July near Gibraltar — a British overseas territory — Iran seized the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which remains held by the Islamic republic. Analysts had said the Iranian ship’s release by Gibraltar could mean that the Stena Impero goes free.
Gibraltar’s government said Sunday it was allowing the Iranian tanker’s release because, “The EU sanctions regime against Iran — which is applicable in Gibraltar — is much narrower than that applicable in the US.”
In a last-ditch effort to stop the release, the US unsealed a warrant Friday to seize the vessel and its cargo of 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil, citing violations of US sanctions as well as money laundering and terrorism statutes.
US officials told reporters that the oil aboard the ship was worth some $130 million and that it was destined for a designated terror organization.
The unsealed court documents argued that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are the ship’s true owners through a network of front companies.
Authorities in Gibraltar said Sunday that, unlike in the US, the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is not designated a terrorist organization under EU, UK or Gibraltar law.
The Iranian ship was detained while sailing under a Panamanian flag with the name Grace 1. As of Sunday, it had been renamed the Adrian Darya 1 and had hoisted an Iranian flag. Workers were seen painting the new name on the side of the ship Saturday.
Iran has not disclosed the Adrian Darya 1’s intended destination and has denied it was ever headed for Syria.
The chief minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, said he had been assured in writing by the Iranian government that the tanker wouldn’t unload its cargo in Syria.
The Astralship shipping agency in Gibraltar, which has been hired to handle paperwork and arrange logistics for the Adrian Darya 1, had told The Associated Press that a new crew of Indian and Ukrainian nationals had been expected to replace the sailors on board.

 

 


Venezuela’s rival factions take power struggle to UN after talks fail

Updated 19 September 2019

Venezuela’s rival factions take power struggle to UN after talks fail

  • Guaido is seeking to get more countries, especially the European Union, to implement sanctions on Venezuela
  • Maduro calls Guaido a US puppet seeking to oust him in a coup

CARACAS/WASHINGTON: Venezuela’s rival political factions will take their power struggle to New York next week, where representatives of President Nicolas Maduro and opposition chief Juan Guaido will each try to convince a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations that their boss is the country’s legitimate head of state.
The United States and more than 50 other countries recognize Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as the rightful president. Guaido in January invoked the constitution to assume a rival presidency to Maduro, arguing the socialist president’s May 2018 re-election was a sham.
But the 193-member UN General Assembly still recognizes Maduro, who retains the support of the UN Security Council’s veto-wielding permanent members Russia and China, setting the stage for the two sides to air their public grievances as they battle for international backing.
A round of negotiations brokered by Norway in recent months, aimed at peacefully resolving the crisis, has failed.
Guaido is seeking to get more countries, especially the European Union, to implement sanctions on Venezuela, as the United States has done.
Maduro, who has overseen a collapse of the OPEC nation’s once-prosperous economy and has been accused by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights of rights violations, wants to heap pressure on the United States to lift sanctions on state oil company PDVSA and members of his inner circle.
Critics say his government’s decisions this week to free a jailed opposition lawmaker and reform Venezuela’s electoral body, long accused of bias, were aimed at improving Maduro’s image before the UN gathering.
“They want to use the UN meeting to wash their face, because they are not reaching any real solutions for the Venezuelan people,” Carlos Valero, an opposition lawmaker who sits on the National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee, said in an interview on Wednesday.
Maduro calls Guaido a US puppet seeking to oust him in a coup, and blames Washington’s sanctions for Venezuela’s economic woes. Maduro himself said he will not attend the UN gathering, but he tasked two cabinet members with presenting a petition condemning the sanctions to Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
“The UN Secretary General and all the UN agencies should raise their voice to condemn the aggression Venezuela is being subjected to, to condemn the illegal blockade,” Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told reporters in Geneva last Friday. “We believe that a lot more can be done from the United Nations.”
’Until Maduro is gone’
Guaido has not yet decided whether he will attend, according to his US envoy Carlos Vecchio. Julio Borges, an exiled opposition lawmaker recently named Guaido’s chief diplomat, will be in New York for side events aimed at spotlighting Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis and Maduro’s alleged support for armed rebels in Colombia.
The events include a likely meeting of the signatories of the Rio Treaty, invoked earlier this month by a dozen members of the Organization of American States (OAS), including the United States. The treaty is a Cold War-era mutual defense pact that the countries said they had invoked in response to what they called Maduro’s threat to regional stability. The OAS, unlike the UN, recognizes Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader.
Maduro’s government denies supporting the Colombian rebels and says the Rio Treaty is a precursor to military intervention.
In April, US Vice President Mike Pence called on the UN to revoke the credentials of Maduro’s government and recognize Guaido, but Washington has taken no action to push the measure at the General Assembly. Diplomats said it was unlikely Washington would get the support needed.
Both Washington and Venezuela’s opposition are seeking to counter perceptions that their efforts to oust Maduro have stalled.
Though differences over Iran and Afghanistan policy were the main reasons for US President Donald Trump’s firing of his hawkish national security adviser John Bolton last week, Trump had also grown increasingly impatient with the failure of sanctions and diplomatic pressure to push Maduro from power.
Despite Trump’s vows that all options were on the table, he had resisted Bolton’s push for more military planning, according to a person familiar with the matter. Trump’s aides have made clear that he is likely to impose further sanctions but the economic weapons at Washington’s disposal appear to be dwindling.
US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on Tuesday that the United States continued to stand with Guaido and that sanctions “will not be lifted until Maduro is gone.”
“We look forward to coming together with regional partners to discuss the multilateral economic and political options we can employ to the threat to the security of the region that Maduro represents,” she said.