by Atousa Pilger
According to ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg, the state-run National Iranian Tanker Company owns the 17 ships used to carry oil from the Islamic Republic to China in July and August. The data shows the contrast between this and the prior three months, when almost half the vessels that made the journey in were owned by companies in China. It appears that China’s shipowners are shunning Iran’s oil before U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s crude exports snap back into effect in early November, even though it is reported that China has rejected a U.S. request to halt purchases from Iran.
Iran has been forced to offer its own tankers to ferry cargoes to its customers.
After US President Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, that had eased oil restrictions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, the nation’s outflow has fallen. However, China’s decision dealt a blow to Trump’s efforts to isolate the country, and force it into negotiations.
Iran is using its own tankers to supply top customers as impending U.S. sanctions threaten to disrupt global crude trade. Iran’s fleet of “very large crude carriers”, or VLCCs, and Suezmax tankers are the largest that can fit fully-laden through the Suez Canal. This distinction has always played an important role in delivering Iranian crude to customers. With insurers and international shipping companies reacting to the impending renewal of sanctions, it importance is increasing.
China is the world’s largest oil importer, and Iran’s most important customer. China, seeking to skirt US sanctions, will use oil tankers from Iran for its purchases of that country’s crude, throwing Iran a lifeline, as European companies such as France’s Total are walking away.
However, in an effort to avoid the risk of buyers losing access to the American financial system, other countries, including South Korea and Japan, are reducing shipments before the November deadline.
Additionally, the owners of oil-tankers seem to be staying away from hauling Iranian supplies because they don’t want to risk being cut off from transporting crude pumped from shale fields in Texas or wells in the Gulf of Mexico.
In India, another major purchaser of Iranian oil, the top-two state refiners are receiving crude delivered in tankers owned and insured by Iran, who offered supplies on a delivered basis. The country also offered insurance after re-insurers declined to underwrite Iranian crude.