Iran oil tanker Adrian Darya 1 pursued by US turns off its tracker near Syria

Adrian Darya 1, which is at the center of a confrontation between Washington and Tehran, was formerly called Grace 1, and was detained by Britain off Gibraltar in July 2019 due to British suspicion it was carrying Iranian oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 03 September 2019

Iran oil tanker Adrian Darya 1 pursued by US turns off its tracker near Syria

  • Disappearance of Adrian Darya 1 follows a pattern of Iranian oil tankers turning off tracking systems
  • Renewed speculation on Tuesday that it will head to Syria

DUBAI: An Iranian oil tanker pursued by the US turned off its tracking beacon, leading to renewed speculation on Tuesday that it will head to Syria.
The disappearance of the Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as the Grace 1, follows a pattern of Iranian oil tankers turning off their Automatic Identification System to try and mask where they deliver their cargo amid US sanctions targeting Iran’s energy industry.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reiterated on Tuesday that Tehran will not enter into direct talks with the US unless Washington rejoins the 2015 nuclear deal that President Donald Trump withdrew America from over a year ago.
Trump’s withdrawal and the imposition of heavy economic sanctions on Iran have blocked it from selling its crude oil abroad, a crucial source of government funding for the Islamic Republic. Meanwhile, tensions have spiked across the Arabian Gulf over mysterious tanker explosions, the shooting down of a US military surveillance drone by Iran and America deploying more troops and warplanes to the region.
The Adrian Darya, which carries 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude worth some $130 million, switched off its AIS beacon just before 1600 GMT Monday, according to the ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com. The ship was some 45 nautical miles (83 kilometers) off the coast of Lebanon and Syria, heading north at its last report.
Earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had alleged the US had intelligence that the Adrian Darya would head to the Syrian port of Tartus, just a short distance from its last reported position.
The actions of the Adrian Darya follow a pattern of other Iranian ships turning off their trackers once they reach near Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea, said Ranjith Raja, a lead analyst at the data firm Refinitiv.
Based on the fact Turkey has stopped taking Iranian crude oil and Syria historically has taken around 1 million barrels of crude oil a month from Iran, Raja said it was likely the ship would be offloading its cargo in Syria. That could see it transfer crude oil on smaller vessels, allowing it to be taken to port, he said.
“The Iranian oil going to Syria is not something new,” Raja said. “This is a known fact.”
The oil shipment website Tanker Trackers similarly believes the Adrian Darya to be off Syria.
“It is now safe to assume she is in Syria’s territorial waters,” Tanker Trackers wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
Iranian officials haven’t identified who bought the Adrian Darya’s cargo, only that it has been sold.
The US, which has sought to seize the tanker, alleged in federal court that the ship is owned by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary organization answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The US recently declared the Guard a terrorist organization, giving it greater power to pursue seizing its assets.
US officials since have warned countries not to aid the Adrian Darya, which previously said it would be heading to Greece and Turkey before turning off its tracker Monday. Authorities in Gibraltar alleged the ship was bound for a refinery in Baniyas, Syria, when they seized it in early July. They ultimately let it go after holding it for weeks.
Meanwhile, Rouhani addressed Iran’s parliament on Tuesday and touched on ongoing negotiations aimed at saving the country’s unraveling nuclear deal. Under the landmark 2015 agreement, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed last week that Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium still exceeds the amount allowed by the deal.
The UN agency also said Iran continues to enrich uranium up to 4.5%, above the 3.67% allowed under the deal but still far below weapons-grade levels of 90%.
Iran has warned it will take additional steps away from the accord on Friday if it doesn’t get help from Europe to sell its oil abroad, calling it their “third step” away from the deal. An Iranian lawmaker has suggested France is proposing a $15 billion credit line for Tehran if it returns to the deal.
Rouhani told lawmakers that Iran wouldn’t negotiate directly with the US unless it returned to the deal. That’s after speculation grew of a possible meeting between Trump and Iranian officials following an appearance by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the Group of Seven meeting in August.
“Unfortunately after America’s violation (of the deal) and treachery and its getting out of its commitments, the Europeans too either failed to carry out their duties, or couldn’t do so, or both,” Rouhani told parliament.
Rouhani added: “If (the Europeans) don’t do anything significant, we surely will take the third step in the coming days.”
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi echoed that sentiment, lashing out at both Trump for pulling out of the nuclear deal and at Europeans for failing to implement a solution that would compensate for the US withdrawal.
“They promised to find practical solutions in order to let Iran still benefit from the sanctions lifting to compensate the absence of the US,” Araghchi told a European economic gathering in Slovenia. “What happened? ... The Europeans are still not able to create a simple banking channel to let business between Iran and Europe, to let their own companies do business with Iran.”


Turkey and Qatar on course to clash over Levant basin drilling

A Turkish drilling ship sails toward Cyprus in the Mediterranean. (AP/File)
Updated 12 November 2019

Turkey and Qatar on course to clash over Levant basin drilling

ANKARA: After Turkey’s public broadcaster TRT and pro-government Daily Sabah harshly hit back at Qatar-owned Al Jazeera over anti-Turkish coverage, another fault line is emerging between the two countries over their activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Qatar, once a very close ally to Turkey in its regional policies, appears to have pivoted by involving itself in offshore gas drilling in Cyprus — a red line for Ankara.
On Sunday, Qatar Petroleum also announced the successful startup of a refinery venture in Egypt which is expected to reach full production level by the end of the first quarter of next year.
Such increased engagement in the Mediterranean is seen by many as a move to consolidate the country’s footprint, despite risking Turkish relations.
Dr. Michael Tanchum, senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES), said that it was important not to overstate the divergence between Ankara and Doha, but also to recognize that the Turkey-Qatar partnership had its limits.
“Qatar’s refinery venture in Egypt goes back to 2012. As for its share in the drilling operations off the southern coast of Cyprus, Qatar made a strategic business choice to partner with Exxon. Of course, there are political implications,” he told Arab News.
The refinery venture project cost $4.4 billion and will chiefly produce Euro V refined products, such as jet fuel and diesel.
However, for Tanchum, Qatar’s position in the global hydrocarbons market creates business imperatives that Doha must consider in addition to the parameters of its geopolitical partnership with Turkey.
“Qatar’s presence in the waters off the southern coast of Cyprus may turn out in the end to be beneficial to Turkey,” he also added.
According to Tanchum, “Qatar may be able to act as a bridge in the Eastern Mediterranean and help provide Turkey a role in the marketing of Eastern Mediterranean hydrocarbons, providing a mechanism that would allow Turkey to reduce its naval presence south of the island.”
Turkey has its own drilling vessels in the area and two of the seven ships that hold drilling activities in the region are currently Turkish. The country aims to open five new deep-sea wells by next year.

BACKGROUND

In 2017, ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum signed an exploration and production sharing contract with Greek Cyprus, allowing the companies to start drilling in the contested offshore Block 10 area. ExxonMobil has since discovered a huge natural gas reservoir in the disputed maritime zone.

However, the simmering Cypriot conflict is a political and practical hurdle to consider, as the Greek side has awarded international oil and drilling companies — Italy’s Eni and France’s Total — with exploration rights in the area it declared as its own exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
This zone, which mostly clashes with the EEZ declared by Turkish Cyprus, is believed to have rich hydrocarbon reserves, and Turkey’s presence in waters off the south of Cyprus has been heavily criticized by the EU and is considered “illegal” by the US.
Gallia Lindenstrauss, senior research fellow from the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said that the current rift between Turkey and Qatar was surprising, and that although Turkey paid high-profile visits to Qatar recently, it cannot change the country’s foreign policy paradigms.
“Turkey cannot change the basic traits of Qatari foreign policy, which is very active and has close contacts at times with opposing sides to various conflicts in the Middle East. Qatar also uses its vast resources as an insurance policy, to make sure that at any given point there are enough actors that are interested in its survival as an independent entity,” she told Arab News.
In 2017, ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum signed an exploration and production sharing contract with Greek Cyprus, allowing the companies to start drilling in the contested offshore Block 10 area. ExxonMobil has since discovered a huge natural gas reservoir in the disputed maritime zone.