A tanker believed to hold sanctioned Iran oil starts offloading near Texas despite Tehran’s threats

by Lucas Garcia
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U.S.-Iran tensions

On Sunday, an oil tanker, thought to be carrying sanctioned Iranian crude oil, started offloading its cargo near Texas, despite warnings from Iran. The Marshall Islands-flagged Suez Rajan, which has long been suspected of transporting oil from Iran, initiated the transfer of its oil to another tanker, the MR Euphrates, near Galveston, around 45 miles southeast of Houston, according to data from The Big Big News.

This occurrence adds more complexity to the ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Iran. There is an ongoing negotiation between Tehran and Washington, where Iran aims to trade billions of dollars in frozen assets in South Korea for the release of five Iranian-Americans held in Tehran. This situation is part of a broader struggle as Iran seeks to bypass sanctions and continue selling its oil abroad, while the U.S. and allies have seized cargoes since 2019, following the breakdown of the nuclear deal that permitted the trade.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has previously warned of retaliatory actions against those involved in offloading the Suez Rajan’s cargo. The U.S. Navy has also increased its presence in the region, deploying additional troops and aircraft and considering arming commercial ships to prevent further seizures by Iran.

The owners of the Suez Rajan, Los Angeles-based private equity firm Oaktree Capital Management, and U.S. officials have not responded to requests for comments on the matter.

The Suez Rajan’s saga began in February 2022 when suspicions arose that the vessel carried oil from Iran’s main oil terminal, Khargh Island. After months anchored off Singapore’s northeast coast, the ship headed for the Gulf of Mexico without explanation. Analysts speculate that U.S. officials likely seized the vessel’s cargo, although no public court documents were available early Sunday.

Iran has also retaliated by seizing two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, linking these actions to the fate of the Suez Rajan’s cargo.

The U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal in 2018, followed by the re-imposition of sanctions, has stifled much of Iran’s oil trade, leading to a covert game of cat-and-mouse over Iranian oil shipments and a series of escalating attacks since 2019.

The delay in offloading the Suez Rajan has become a political challenge for the Biden administration, with a bipartisan group of senators asking for an update on the situation. They suggested that the estimated $56 million worth of cargo could be directed to the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.

Prominent voices, such as Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, have called for a stronger stance against Iran and have emphasized the importance of enforcing existing sanctions.

The U.S. Treasury noted that Iran’s oil smuggling supports the Quds Force, an arm of the Revolutionary Guard that operates across the Middle East.

Supporters of the transfer, such as Claire Jungman from United Against Nuclear Iran, see it as a significant blow against terrorism targeting Americans and global allies.

Meanwhile, tensions in the region continue to escalate, as evidenced by a recent video released by Iranian state media showing the USS Bataan being trailed by Guard fast boats in the Strait of Hormuz. A U.S. Navy spokesman has acknowledged the transit, reiterating the Navy’s commitment to international law.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about U.S.-Iran tensions

What tanker is suspected of carrying sanctioned Iranian oil?

The Marshall Islands-flagged Suez Rajan is suspected of carrying sanctioned Iranian crude oil.

Where did the Suez Rajan offload its cargo?

The Suez Rajan offloaded its cargo near Galveston, Texas, about 45 miles southeast of Houston.

How has Iran responded to the offloading of the Suez Rajan’s cargo?

Iran has threatened to target shipping in the Persian Gulf over the offloading, and its Revolutionary Guard has warned of retaliation against those involved.

What has the U.S. Navy done in response to the situation?

The U.S. Navy has increased its presence in the Middle East, sending additional troops and aircraft, and considering arming commercial ships to prevent further seizures by Iran.

Who are the owners of the Suez Rajan?

The owners of the Suez Rajan are the Los Angeles-based private equity firm Oaktree Capital Management.

When did the saga over the Suez Rajan begin?

The saga began in February 2022, when the group United Against Nuclear Iran suspected that the tanker carried oil from Iran’s Khargh Island.

What is the estimated worth of the Suez Rajan’s cargo?

The ship’s cargo is estimated to be worth around $56 million.

What is the broader context of the situation regarding the Suez Rajan?

This incident adds to the wider tensions between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic of Iran, involving ongoing negotiations, sanctions, seized cargoes, and escalating attacks since the collapse of the country’s nuclear deal in 2018.

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