Washington — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged EU leaders Wednesday to increase pressure on Iran after satellite images appear to show the Adrian Darya 1 tanker making a ship-to-ship oil transfer off the coast of sanctions-hit Syria.
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The oil tanker, formerly called Grace 1, was at the center of maritime tensions in July when it was detained by Gibraltar. Iran responded by seizing the British-flagged Stena Impero chemical tanker, which was released in late September after two months.
The incidents escalated risks for oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, where 30% of the world's seaborne oil transits.
"Oil from the Adrian Darya 1 has been offloaded in Syria, proving that Iran lied to the UK and Gibraltar," Pompeo tweeted. "This terrorist oil will fund Assad's war and Iran's sectarian violence. EU members should condemn this action, uphold the rule of law, and hold Iran accountable."
Pompeo also tweeted satellite images appearing to show the tanker making a ship-to-ship transfer to a smaller vessel that was later seen moored at the Syrian port of Baniyas.
Iran exported an estimated 400,000 b/d of crude and condensate in September, based on preliminary estimates complied with S&P Global Platts trade flow software cFlow and shipping sources.
S&P Global Platts Analytics expects Iranian exports to be capped at 400,000 b/d through the end of 2020.
Platts Analytics chief geopolitical adviser Paul Sheldon sees the chances of talks between Tehran and Washington as below 50:50 because the US is unlikely to offer sanctions relief preemptively as a condition for talks, and because of the Iranian supreme leaders' "deeply skeptical view of US intentions."
"Iran's perception that it has little to lose, with sanctions already near full tilt and the US wary of military action, will cause it to maintain the pressure," Sheldon said.
Ship operators in the Middle East have been on high alert, and insurance rates have soared since tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman in May and June. The US has blamed Iran for the attacks, although Iran denies responsibility. Tensions escalated after the US pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, re-imposing sanctions on the country.
The US has announced a maritime security partnership aimed at improving security in the straits of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandeb.
Iran has repeatedly issued threats to close or disrupt traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, should US sanctions block its oil shipments.
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