U.S. Confirms It Will Detain Oil Shipment It Says Is From Iran

Verity Ratcliffe, Bloomberg News *

A crew member walks on the deck of an oil tanker anchored in the Pacific Ocean in this aerial photograph taken above Long Beach, California, U.S., on Friday, May 1, 2020. The volume of oil on vessels located just offshore the state peaked at 26 million barrels over the weekend, about a quarter of the world’s daily consumption, before dropping to 22 million barrels on Monday, according to Paris-based Kpler SAS, which tracks tanker traffic. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) — The U.S. has filed court documents in a bid to seize oil on board a vessel because it says the crude came from Iran and falls under its terrorism laws.

The Department of Justice issued a complaint in a U.S. district court to seize the cargo on the Liberia-flagged Achilleas on Tuesday, according to a statement. The U.S. alleges that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the IRGC-Qods Force covertly shipped Iranian oil to a customer abroad.

“Participants in the scheme attempted to disguise the origin of the oil using ship-to-ship transfers, falsified documents, and other means, and provided a fraudulent bill of lading to deceive the owners of the Achilleas into loading the oil in question,” the department said.

The Achilleas’ Greek owner, Capital Ship Management Corp., alerted U.S. authorities to the possibility that it had unknowingly taken on Iranian crude, after initially thinking it came from Iraq, Bloomberg reported last month.

Washington ordered the ship to sail to the U.S. before Joe Biden succeeded Donald Trump as U.S. president on Jan. 20, according to people familiar with the matter. Under Trump, Washington tightened sanctions on Iran in an effort to halt its oil sales, end its nuclear activities and stop what the U.S. considers to be its interference in other Middle Eastern countries.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia will continue working with our law enforcement partners to stem the flow of illicit oil from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Qods Force,” Acting U.S. Attorney Michael R. Sherwin said in the statement.

The vessel is fully loaded with more than 2 million barrels, according to shipping documents. It’s heading to the U.S. and is currently sailing close to the South American coast, according to tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.

The U.S. will need to prove its allegations in court proceedings, said the statement.

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