Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker Advantage Sweet, which, according to Refinitiv ship tracking data, is a Suezmax crude tanker which had been chartered by oil major Chevron and had last docked in Kuwait, sails at Marmara sea near Istanbul, Turkey January 10, 2023.

US Senators Voice Support For Seizure Of Iranian Oil, Call For More

Thursday, 06/08/2023

Several US senators backed the Biden administration's move to seize Iranian oil tankers at Panama Canal, calling for more measures to stop export of Iran’s crude.

Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) told Iran International’s Arash Aalaei he "applauds" the seizure and he "hopes they'll have many more."

He added that this is a message to Iranians warning them that they cannot ultimately divert their oil and violate embargoes imposed on their oil trade.

Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) told us that he supports the Biden administration's seizure of Suez Rajan tanker carrying Iranian crude oil, lauding it as “a very strong move.”

“Iranian aggression in many ways, including supplying drones to Russia to facilitate an illegal war in Ukraine, the behavior of Iran both to its own people and beyond the borders, is getting worse and worse and worse,” he noted.

Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) (right) talking to Iran International’s Arash Aalaei (left) on June 8, 2023

The US this year quietly seized two tankers suspected of transporting Iranian oil as part of an elaborate sanctions-busting scheme involving forged documents and the repainting of a ship’s deck to cloak illegal shipments.

Details of the seizures are scarce and sketchy. It is not clear if the two tankers were seized at the same and at the same location or were two separate incidents.

One thing which is clear, both vessels — the Cyprus-flagged Arina and Liberia-flagged Nostos — tried to discharge the oil at a storage facility in Turkey, according to the New York-based group United Against Nuclear Iran. Instead, they were detected by US authorities and ordered to unload their cargo, which the Nostos did in Houston around Thanksgiving last year and Arina more recently, in January, in Bahamas, according to the AP. Arina, which was formerly Panama-flagged and its last listed manager is Athens-based Saint James Shipping Ltd., had previously been known to ship illegal Iranian crude, US attorneys allege in a civil complaint filed in Washington federal court.

As Iran’s illicit oil exports began to rise after President Joe Biden’s election in 2020, many US lawmakers began criticizing the administration for lax enforcement of sanctions. Some have accused the Biden team of having been soft on Iran with hope that negotiations to revive the JCPOA nuclear agreement would succeed.

The seizure of Iranian crude took place as there are unconfirmed reports that the Biden administration seeks to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran via an impending interim deal, which would likely entail the US lifting sanctions. If this is true, the US may be able to balance the market thanks to Iranian oil while its sanctions on Russia removed a large portion from the market. Some of that lost supply could be made up by Iran, which – according to the AP -- pumped an average 2.4 million barrels per day in 2021 though due to sanctions has been able to sell less than half of what it produces.

The administration of Ebrahim Raisi claims to have increased the oil exports but its results have not been felt in the country’s economy as the national currency has been losing its value and society is struggling with record high inflation.

On Wednesday, US Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) introduced the Stop Harboring Iranian Petroleum (SHIP) Act, which would sanction illicit purchases of Iranian oil and hold the regime’s enablers accountable.

The act is supposed to target Iranian oil sales to Chinese refineries, which have been the main importers of Iran’s oil. “Iranian oil sales to China’s genocidal regime fund the Ayatollah’s ability to repress Iranian protesters,” read part of a statement to announce the act, adding that as of February 2023, Chinese refineries were processing, refining, or engaging with approximately 1.2 million barrels of Iranian oil per day.

Senator Menendez told Iran International that he cannot comment on the specifics of the legislation yet but added that in general, he supports “efforts that try to stop the Iranian regime from profiting at the expense of their own people.”

“As the regime in Tehran continues to enrich itself through the sale of sanctioned oil, we must ensure that US sanctions on all individuals and entities linked to the illicit trade of Iranian oil are rigorously enforced,” Rubio said.

“We must do everything that we can to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon and stop its support of terrorism. This bipartisan legislation will strengthen sanctions on Iranian oil - a key revenue source for the regime - and make the United States and our allies, including Israel, safer,” Senator Hassan said in the statement to announce the act.

“This bipartisan legislation will strengthen sanctions on ports and refineries that receive and process Iranian oil and will help reign in Iran’s ability to engage in destabilizing activities,” Senator Rosen noted.

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