Iran Says Tanker’s Oil Sold to Private Buyer, But It’s Unclear Any Was Delivered

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.

Iran says it has sold oil on a tanker near Syria’s coast to a private company in defiance of U.S. efforts to stop such a sale, fueling debate among observers about whether the ship has offloaded any crude.

In a tweet posted Wednesday, Iranian Ambassador to Britain Hamid Baeidinejad said his nation’s tanker had sold its oil at sea to the unnamed private company “despite numerous American threats.”

U.S. ally Britain had seized the tanker July 4 under its former name of Grace 1 in the waters of the British territory of Gibraltar, on suspicion the tanker planned to deliver Iranian oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions on the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. Gibraltar allowed the tanker, under its new name of Adrian Darya 1, to leave its waters Aug. 18 after saying British authorities had received written assurances that Iran would not deliver the oil to Syria.

Iranian officials denied providing such assurances, and the Adrian Darya 1 sailed toward the Syrian coast before turning off its transponder Sept. 2. The Trump administration, which unilaterally banned all Iranian oil exports in May to pressure Tehran to stop perceived malign behaviors, appealed unsuccessfully to Britain not to release the tanker and later sanctioned the vessel Aug. 30.

در جلسه امروز با وزیر خارجه انگلیس، تاکیدگردیدکه اقدام مقامات انگلیس علیه نفتکش حامل نفت ایران خلاف حقوق بین الملل بود.تحریمهای اتحادیه اروپا قابل تعمیم به کشورهای ثالث نیست.علیرغم تهدیدات بیشمار آمریکا،نفتکش نفت خود را در دریا به یک ‌شرکت خصوصی فروخت و تعهدی را هم نقض نکرده است.

— Hamid Baeidinejad (@baeidinejad) September 11, 2019

In his tweet, Baeidinejad said Iran believes EU sanctions “cannot be extended to third countries.” He posted his comments after being summoned a day earlier by British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab, who issued a statement condemning Iran for “breaching assurances” about the tanker. Raab said it was “clear … that the oil has been transferred to Syria and Assad’s murderous regime.”

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman backed up Britain’s accusation that Iran “reneged on its assurances” regarding the tanker in a Tuesday statement reported by Reuters.

In a Wednesday report, Iranian state news agency IRNA also quoted Iranian Ambassador Baeidinejad as saying the new private owner of the tanker’s 2.1 million barrels of oil will choose the destination of the crude, without elaborating.

Earlier, Iran’s semi-official Mehr News Agency had quoted foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as telling state media Sunday that the tanker had “docked on the Mediterranean coast and unloaded its cargo,” without specifying the date or other details.

Long story, short: The #AdrianDarya1 sailed into Syrian waters, anchored off the coast of Tartous and is just parked there, still holding 2.1 million barrels of Iranian oil she picked up FIVE MONTHS AGO. Both Baniyas and Tartous accept maximum 16m vessel depth. She‘s 22m deep.

—, Inc.⚓️🛢 (@TankerTrackers) September 11, 2019, one of the few companies monitoring global oil shipments, disputed that contention, tweeting that satellite imagery showed the Adrian Darya 1 remained anchored off the Syrian port of Tartous Wednesday with all of its oil still on board.

Samir Madani, co-founder of, dismissed the significance of Iran’s assertion that it has sold the oil to a private company.

“The reported monetary transaction has no relevance because a buyer has not shown up and won’t do so, as the whole world is watching this now,” Madani told VOA Persian. “It’s all talk until the oil actually has been discharged from that vessel,” he added.

U.S. officials repeatedly have warned the international shipping industry that Washington will aggressively enforce U.S. secondary sanctions against anyone doing business with sanctioned Iranian parties and cargo.

Reid I’Anson, a Houston-based global energy economist for French intelligence company Kpler, said he believed Iran has offloaded at least some of the oil from Adrian Darya 1.

This image, obtained Sept. 7, 2019, reportedly shows the oil tanker Adrian Darya 1, near the port city of Tartus, Syria, Sept. 6, 2019.

“We assume the tanker discharged oil after it went dark (by turning off its transponder) because a ship costs money to keep floating and it’s not going to sit there for a week and do nothing,” I’Anson said in a Wednesday interview with VOA Persian. “It could have transferred oil at a port or done a partial ship-to-ship (STS) transfer anytime after Sept. 2 with a component vessel that also could have turned off its transponder.”

I’Anson also said the Iranian tanker may have transferred oil to vessels bound for Turkey or Syria, with both nations having been Iran’s only major oil customers in the region.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a VOA Persian request for comment on Iran’s assertion that it has sold the tanker’s oil to a private company.