Chinese-owned supertanker changed name in effort to evade oil sanctions

While in the Indian Ocean on its way to the Strait of Malacca on June 5, the Chinese-owned very large crude carrier (VLCC) Pacific Bravo went dark and the radio transponder that signalled its position and direction to other ships fell silent, tracking data showed.

A US government official warned ports in Asia at that time not to allow the ship to dock, claiming it carried Iranian crude in violation of Washington’s economic sanctions. A VLCC supertanker typically carries about 2 million barrels of oil, worth about US$118 million at current prices.

On July 18, the transponder of the supertanker Latin Venture came to life off Port Dickson in Malaysia, in the Strait of Malacca, about 1,500km from where the Pacific Bravo last signalled its position.

Both the Latin Venture and the Pacific Bravo sent the same unique identification number – IMO9206035 – issued by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), according to data from Refinitiv and VesselsValue, which track ships and vessel transactions.

The Pacific Bravo/Latin Venture started service in 2009 as the Kumanogawa. Photo: www.wakentsu.com/MarineTraffic.comThe Pacific Bravo/Latin Venture started service in 2009 as the Kumanogawa. Photo: www.wakentsu.com/MarineTraffic.com
The Pacific Bravo/Latin Venture started service in 2009 as the Kumanogawa. Photo: www.wakentsu.com/MarineTraffic.com

While in the Indian Ocean on its way to the Strait of Malacca on June 5, the Chinese-owned very large crude carrier (VLCC) Pacific Bravo went dark and the radio transponder that signalled its position and direction to other ships fell silent, tracking data showed.

A US government official warned ports in Asia at that time not to allow the ship to dock, claiming it carried Iranian crude in violation of Washington’s economic sanctions. A VLCC supertanker typically carries about 2 million barrels of oil, worth about US$118 million at current prices.

On July 18, the transponder of the supertanker Latin Venture came to life off Port Dickson in Malaysia, in the Strait of Malacca, about 1,500km from where the Pacific Bravo last signalled its position.

Both the Latin Venture and the Pacific Bravo sent the same unique identification number – IMO9206035 – issued by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), according to data from Refinitiv and VesselsValue, which track ships and vessel transactions.

Media and information company Thomson Reuters has a minority stake in Refinitiv.

As IMO numbers are assigned to a ship for life, this indicated that the Latin Venture and the Pacific Bravo were the same vessel and suggested someone was trying to evade Iran oil sanctions.

“Without speculating on any particular shipowners’ actions, generally speaking for a ship to change its name abruptly after receiving accusations from the US, it can only be that the owner is hopeful that the market will be deceived by something as rudimentary as a name change,” said Matt Stanley, an oil broker at StarFuels in Dubai.

The vessel is owned by Kunlun Holdings, which, according to data from Equasis.org, a shipping transparency website set up by the European Commission and the French Maritime Administration, is based in Shanghai. The company also has an office in Singapore.

Calls to the company’s offices were not answered.

While operating as the Pacific Bravo, the ship’s transponder data showed that its tanks were full before the device was shut down. When the Latin Venture appeared more than a month later, it was empty, according to the Refinitiv and VesselsValue data.

The Marine Department Malaysia said the Latin Venture entered Port Dickson on June 29 for a crew change and left on July 18. The agency said that no cargo was discharged.

Washington reimposed sanctions on Iran in November after pulling out of a 2015 accord involving Tehran and six world powers that limited Iran’s nuclear programme. Aiming to cut Iran’s oil sales to zero, the US in May ended sanction waivers given to some importers of Iranian oil.

The Chinese foreign ministry and Iranian officials did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the ship tracking and ports database Fleetmon.com, the Panamanian registered Latin Venture was named Kumanogawa and sailed under the Liberian flag between May 2009 and February 2014, then transferred to the Marshall Islands as Silver Glory between February 2014 and January 2019, when it became the Liberian flagged Pacific Bravo.

After departing Port Dickson, the tanker sailed past Singapore to the southeastern coast of Malaysia and on July 25 it transmitted that its cargo tanks were nearly full. As of Wednesday, the ship was still there, tracking data showed.

The origin of the cargo could not be determined.

Source » scmp

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