May 2024 Iran Tanker Tracking

In this month’s update, we note with approval that the Panama Maritime Authority is making significant progress in cleaning up its registry by deleting at least 32 vessels suspected of transporting Iranian oil. This has been a key request from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) since 2020. Panama’s proactive measures represent a step toward curbing Iran’s deceptive shipping practices and cutting off a vital revenue stream used to fund its terrorist activities. Nonetheless, at least 130 vessels on the Panama registry require further scrutiny and potential action. 

Vessels previously registered in Panama are now engaging in a practice known as “flag hopping,” where they switch registration to other countries to avoid scrutiny and continue their illegal activities. This allows vessels to exploit the regulatory weaknesses of certain maritime registries and continue transporting Iranian oil.

Many of these vessels are now finding refuge in registries including Cameroon or the Cook Islands, registries historically more reluctant to de-register a vessel in the absence of a specific OFAC designation. This reluctance undermines global efforts to enforce sanctions and disrupt Iran's oil export operations. 

It is important to emphasize that registries are strongly encouraged to take action even without an official OFAC designation. Iranian oil is sanctioned because its sale supports the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and various terrorist proxies, including Hizballah and the Assad regime. The profits from these oil sales are used to finance a range of malign activities, from terrorism to human rights abuses. The evidence provided by UANI and organizations like it should be sufficient to prompt action. Waiting for an official designation delays crucial enforcement measures and allows Iran to continue its illegal activities.

An important tool to combat flag hopping is the Maritime Registry Sharing Compact, an agreement among various maritime nations to share information on vessels engaged in illicit activities. This stipulates that if a vessel is flagged as suspected of transporting Iranian oil, other member countries should refrain from accepting it into their registries. This cooperative approach is intended to close off avenues for vessels attempting to evade sanctions that continually change their flags.

Unfortunately, not all members are adhering to this agreement. Some registries continue to accept these vessels despite clear and credible evidence of their involvement in transporting Iranian oil. This compromises the collective effort to enforce international sanctions and disrupt Iran's deceptive shipping practices. As usual, all this works to the favor of China, which remained the top importer of Iranian oil for the month of May. 

Country of DestinationMay 2024 - Barrels Per Day (bpd)*April 2024 - Barrels Per Day (bpd)*March 2024 - Barrels Per Day (bpd)*

*Figures to be updated over the following weeks

In addition to shifting registries, we have seen an increase in the use of fraudulent registries, particularly from Guyana and Eswatini, for which the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has issued warnings. The fraudulent Guyanese registry, known as the International Maritime Safety Agency for Guyana (“IMSAG”), operated under the domain by the Aryavart Corporation, which issued fake registration certificates and engaged in unauthorized activities. Despite efforts by the Guyanese government to terminate their agreement with this entity, operations continued. Currently, at least 23 vessels are falsely registered by Guyana, many of which are sanctioned. 

After facing difficulties in Guyana, the Aryavart Corporation established the Eswatini Maritime Affairs and International Ship Registry. This registry falsely registered vessels under the name of Eswatini, a landlocked country, thus facilitating Iran's deceptive shipping practices by providing a veneer of legitimacy to vessels involved in transporting sanctioned oil. The IMO has identified several ships falsely flagged under Eswatini as part of these fraudulent activities.

Some of these same vessels continue to transport Iranian oil to China. China, in turn, purports to believe in the legitimacy of the documentation provided by these registries, further exacerbating the problem. This allows Iran to maintain a significant revenue stream from its oil exports, undermining sanctions and enabling continued funding for its terrorist activities.

For example, the vessel LADY SOFIA (IMO: 9212759), which was sanctioned by OFAC on March 15, 2024, for engaging in illicit shipments to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in support of Iran’s IRGC-QF and Houthi financial facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal, changed flags from Panama to the fraudulent registry of Guyana on May 9, 2024. At the same time, it changed its name to OLYMPICS. This vessel remains laden with Iranian oil, and these name changes are likely an attempt to evade sanctions.

Lady Sofia Flag Changes

Additionally, the vessel ETERNAL FORTUNE did the same and, as a result, offloaded its Iranian oil in China this month.

Iran's deceptive shipping practices, including falsifying documents, ship-to-ship transfers, and using fraudulent registries, enable it to circumvent sanctions and fund its terrorist activities. Panama's recent efforts to clean up its registry are a step in the right direction but underscore the need for a coordinated global response. Registries worldwide must act on credible evidence of sanctions violations without waiting for official designations to effectively disrupt Iran's oil export operations. UANI will continue monitoring these developments and advocating for stronger enforcement measures.