P&I clubs accused of providing insurance to sanctioned vessels
MARINE insurers in Europe, the US and UK are providing cover for 21 tankers and gas carriers found to be shipping Iranian cargoes to China, Syria, Singapore and other destinations in recent months and in violation of US sanctions, reported Lloyds List, UK
MARINE insurers in Europe, the US and UK are providing cover for 21 tankers and gas carriers found to be shipping Iranian cargoes to China, Syria, Singapore and other destinations in recent months and in violation of US sanctions, reported Lloyds List, UK.
'There is no suggestion the protection and indemnity clubs have engaged in any illegal activity. Iran's growing subterfuge fleet is disguising the cargo origin and destination, as well as the ultimate owners of tankers, raising alarm bells as the US Treasury and Department of Justice further scrutinises Iranian energy commodities flows,' the report said.
The 21 vessels from the International Group of P&I Clubs include eight very large crude carriers (VLCCs), four liquefied petroleum gas carriers, and a number of aframax and suezmax tankers, mainly flagged with Panama.
'They form part of a fleet of 91 tankers tracked using Lloyd's List Intelligence data that have engaged in evasive patterns of behaviour consistent with under-the-radar shipments or storage of Iranian crude or gas,' the report said.
'These include 48 National Iranian Tanker Co-owned tankers already sanctioned by the US Treasury, as well as Grace 1, the VLCC detained in Gibraltar for six weeks for violating EU sanctions on Syria. NITC vessels are thought to be insured with Iran's own P&I insurer, Kish.
'Geospatial analysis, vessel-tracking, Automatic Identification System (AIS) monitoring, matching ship-to-ship transfers and cross-referencing ownership and management chains, as well as flag and name changes indicates that largely Chinese or Iranian interests own, manage or operate the tankers or gas carriers,' it said.
The International Group of P&I Clubs has 13 members. Insurers with the 21 vessels entered included Skuld, Gard, West of England P&I, Swedish Club, UK Mutual Steam Ship Assurance Association, Standard Steamship Owners P&I, and American Steamship Owners Mutual P&I.
According to London-based maritime lawyer Daniel Martin, a partner with HFW, the US Treasury, along with banks and marine insurers are among those closely monitoring these ships.
'It's relatively easy to identify vessels that are engaged in calls to sanctioned countries but for the moment there has been less of a focus on insurers,' Mr Martin was quoted as saying. 'But I think that this will come.'
The language of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which administers and monitors economic and trade sanctions 'is broad enough to put pressure on the industry', he added.
'Is there a need for more vigilance - the answer is yes. And what we are increasingly seeing is the use of vessel-tracking as a way to highlight high risk and also focus on other risk factors such as AIS transponders being turned off.'
The report said that Iran's crude oil exports are 'largely under-the-radar, with destinations including China or Syria via circuitous routes involving a number of ship-to-ship transfers in waters off Singapore, Fujairah and Malta, vessel-tracking data shows. At least one cargo has been tracked to Indonesia.'
Several P&I clubs with vessels entered emphasised to Lloyd's List that the cover for any tanker involved in sanctions-busting activity would be automatically invalidated.
One insurer said additional checks were done on a vessel that Lloyd's List identified as loading Iranian crude as recently as this month and tracked to Fujairah for ship-to-ship transfers. This did not indicate it had lifted any cargoes after 'rigorous screen protocols,' the chief executive said.
Lloyd's List then provided geospatial analysis and patterns of behaviour showing that the tanker had been in the vicinity of a National Iranian Oil Co floating production tanker in early August and then disabled its AIS for three days before departing fully laden. 'We will certainly be making further investigations of our own,' was the response.
As recently as August 12, a liquefied petroleum gas carrier linked to Shanghai-based Kunlun Shipping switched P&I cover to Hydor AS, from West of England P&I. The club also covers four other tankers - Affluence, Bamzi, Dalton and Danze - Lloyd's List Intelligence data shows.
The last two tankers changed ownership as recently as June and July. All have opaque ownership structures linked to other sanctions-busting ships. West of England told Lloyd's List it was investigating and had no further comment.