HOUSTON/LONDON, Nov 30 (Reuters) – When the supertanker Young Yong sailed to the Chinese port of Qingdao in September last year, it had quality certificates for its cargo indicating it was carrying Malaysian crude oil, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.
But satellite images and photos show the Chinese-owned vessel had loaded the oil four months earlier in Venezuela, an OPEC country in South America under US oil sanctions.
The Young Yong is one of three ships identified by Reuters that were chartered by little-known companies to export Venezuelan oil and used forged documents to conceal its origin, according to shipping documents and 11 sources with knowledge of the trade. .
Two of those tankers, including the Young Yong, were named this month by U.S. authorities for violating sanctions on Iran, one of Venezuela’s closest allies.
Six oil shipping and trade experts told Reuters that the use of false documents to conceal shipments from sanctioned countries, including Venezuela and Iran, has increased compliance risks for oil and gas companies. trade, amid a proliferation of international sanctions.
“It is now becoming clear that you cannot trust certificates of origin, even when accompanied by official government documents,” said Cari Stinebower, US-based partner at law firm Winston & Strawn. , which advises oil and trading companies on how to comply with sanctions.
Le Young Yong was one of several tankers named by the US Treasury on Nov. 3 as part of a “smuggling ring” that used forged documents to ship Iranian oil to fund Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah. The Treasury designated the tanker as frozen property and placed its owner, Marshall Islands-registered Technology Bright, under sanctions.
The US Treasury declined to comment on the involvement of the Young Yong or the other vessels identified by Reuters in transporting Venezuelan crude.
Stinebower, who previously worked as legal counsel for OFAC, the sanctions enforcement arm of the US Treasury, said the use of false documents to conceal the origin of shipments was initiated by Iran to avoid US sanctions. Citing cases she worked on as a commercial lawyer, Stinebower said it appears the technique is now being adopted to transport Venezuelan oil, but she declined to provide further details.
Venezuela’s oil ministry and state oil company PDVSA did not respond to requests for comment. Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York also did not respond to questions from Reuters.
PDVSA documents reviewed by Reuters indicate that a ship named Comuna loaded 1.98 million barrels of oil in the Venezuelan port of José from May 11 to 21 last year.
However, independent monitoring firm TankerTrackers.com, which specializes in analyzing vessel movements for insurance and shipowner research purposes, used satellite images and photos to identify the tanker as the Young Yong. .
The images show the ship’s name has been painted on but the tanker is identifiable due to the distinctive white arches flanking its deck, the position of the cranes on its deck and the shape of its funnel, said Samir Madani, owner of TankerTrackers .com.
When the Young Yong left Venezuela after loading oil, her tracking transmitter showed her departing from the West African port of Lomé.
The Young Yong then stopped near Malaysia between early July and August 2021. There, on July 8, it obtained a quality certificate from the Singapore-based Saybolt Laboratory which identified its cargo as Malaysian heavy crude. – which has similar characteristics to Merey 16 crude from Venezuela. to note. The certificate measures aspects of the oil – such as its specific gravity and levels of sulfur and metals – that allow a buyer to be sure that a shipment meets contract specifications.
Saybolt’s U.S. owner, Core Laboratories NV (CLB.N), said in a statement to Reuters that it had certified the crude as a Malaysian heavy oil blend based on documentation received from the customer and its analysis. oil quality. The company said it had no reason to doubt that was the case. He did not identify who the customer was.
The quality certificate was shared with Reuters by advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which tracks shipments that may violate sanctions.
Equasis Shipping Database has listed the contact details of the owner of the Young Yong, Technology Bright, in care of East Wind Ship Management, based in Hong Kong. A Reuters reporter could not find East Wind Ship Management at the address listed in the database or find a contact elsewhere to seek comment. Reuters was unable to identify the buyer of the oil in China.
Indonesian authorities said in early November that the Young Yong ran aground off the Riau Islands on October 26. hub near Indonesian waters, according to satellite imagery and ship tracking, analyzed by the advocacy group.
Christian M. Ingerslev, chief executive of Maersk Tankers, said the proliferation of sanctions had led to “separate fleets and separate markets operating in parallel”: some ships operated off the radar to serve sanctioned countries, sometimes without insurance appropriate, he said.
London-headquartered shipbroker Braemar PLC (BRMS.L) estimated that the total fleet serving Iran and Venezuela, despite US sanctions, consists of more than two hundred tankers, including some 82 supertankers like the Young Yong which can carry up to two million barrels. of oil each.
The United States imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s oil trade in 2019 after calling Maduro’s re-election the previous year a deception. Washington has kept up pressure on the socialist leader to hold fair elections and release political prisoners: it said last week it could ease sanctions if talks between Maduro’s government and the opposition progress.
The use of a wide range of tactics – including forged documents, fake ship names and ship-to-ship cargo transfers at sea – has allowed Venezuela to export more than 360 million barrels of crude oil and fuel since the imposition of U.S. sanctions, according to Reuters calculations based on internal PDVSA documents and vessel tracking data.
This represents more than two-thirds of Venezuela’s total oil exports from 2019 to October 2022. The rest either went directly to its ally Cuba or to other destinations in the Caribbean and Europe under exemptions from US sanctions. , according to Reuters calculations.
PDVSA did not respond to a request for comment on those numbers.
Asked about Reuters’ findings regarding the use of false documents by ships carrying Venezuelan crude, a US State Department spokesperson said: “Our sanctions against Venezuela remain in effect.”
PDVSA documents from May 2021 listed Yunshu Maritime Ltd as the charterer for the Comuna – the name used by the Young Yong to load Venezuelan crude that month. Shipping documents and invoices from PDVSA for the cargo dated September 2021 did not provide contact information for Yunshu Maritime. Reuters was unable to find a website or address for the company.
Yunshu Maritime was also the charterer of another supertanker that loaded Venezuelan oil in May 2021 under the name Joy, according to PDVSA loading schedules. Using satellite imagery and photos, TankerTrackers.com identified this vessel as the Panamanian-flagged tanker Adisa, which was also blacklisted this month by the US Treasury for carrying Iranian oil. .
The Treasury said the ship was controlled by a company owned by Viktor Artemov, a Ukrainian national who oversees a network of front companies used to sell sanctioned Iranian oil and funnel profits to the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah.
Artemov, who has been placed under US sanctions, did not respond to requests for comment.
The Treasury named the owner of the Adisa as Triton Navigation Corp, which is listed on Equasis under the umbrella of Thomarose Global Ventures. Reuters was unable to locate Nigerian firm Thomarose Global Ventures for comment.
The Adisa set its location signal to look like it left Africa in early June 2021 with Malaysia as its destination. The ship stopped in Malaysia between July and early September, then turned off its transponder for about a week before reappearing near Qingdao in mid-September, where it unloaded, according to ship tracking data.
However, a bill of lading for the Adisa dated June 3, 2021 and issued by West Atlantic Port Services in Togo indicated that the vessel had loaded 1.89 million barrels of heavy blended crude oil from West Africa, according to the document reviewed by Reuters. West Atlantic Port Services did not respond to phone calls for comment.
Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Michelle Nichols in New York Editing by Daniel Flynn
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