The Ghost Armada

Updated: May 31, 2024

Stop the Hop

In November 2020, UANI identified 70 foreign vessels suspected of involvement in the illicit transfer of Iranian crude oil and/or petroleum products. Over three years later, the list has grown to 416. This suspected ghost armada, distinct from but complementing Iran’s own NITC tanker fleet, has skirted U.S. sanctions and exploited regulatory loopholes to ship millions of barrels of Iranian oil.

One of the most frequently deployed tactics in evading oil sanctions is “flag hopping.” This involves the repeated switching of a ship’s “flag” – which permits legitimate global travel and docking rights – to different national registries. Often accompanied by the formation of new shell and front companies, ownership and name changes, and even alterations to ships’ physical markings, flag-hopping is a blight on legitimate maritime commerce.

Certain vessel owners are intentionally exploiting flag registries, many of which do not have the capabilities to track the history of vessels or even perform what ought to be rudimentary compliance scans.  In fact, some registries are increasingly reliant on UANI for assistance in identifying the suspicious and often illicit behavior of vessels absent their own tracking capabilities and resources.

For example, in a Guardian report from March 23, 2021, the Cook Islands flag registry acknowledged to the journalist, “we just do what they [UANI] tell us.”

In conveying our findings to the world’s flag registries, a majority have taken appropriate measures and de-flagged these vessels. Others are less responsive, taking months to ‘investigate’ while allowing the vessels to engage in further illicit activity under their flag’s registration.

The Panama Maritime Authority (AMP)

Of the 416 vessels listed below, 31% are currently flagged by the Panama Maritime Authority (AMP), one of the world’s biggest and most famous flag registry.

AMP was the second largest flag state for 2023. Given this fact, it might be anticipated that AMP would be a leader in de-flagging vessels that breach sanctions or tamper with vessel-tracking systems. Indeed, AMP director-general Rafael Cigarruista has asserted that AMP is proactive on these issues. 

However, UANI has serious doubts regarding the seriousness of Panama’s flag authority on these issues.

By way of illustration, we first alerted AMP to a suspected ship-to-ship (“STS”) transfer of Iranian oil with the Panama-flagged vessel BRIGHT SONIA in October 2020. BRIGHT SONIA remains flagged by Panama today:

Bright Sonia

Ship Details: BRIGHT SONIA, flagged by Panama (Source: Marine Traffic)

Since October 2020, Bright Sonia is suspected to have engaged in numerous loadings of Iranian oil, transporting an estimated total of 7.3 million barrels of Iranian crude oil. Taking into account the substantial discount Iran offers for crude sales, we estimate this single vessel has filled regime coffers to the tune of $580 million. A big chunk of these proceeds will end up being disbursed for regime terrorist funding, Iranian proxy wars, and Iran’s malign intelligence activities. In neglecting to de-flag BRIGHT SONIA, AMP has seriously abrogated its responsibility.

Responsible Flaggers

On the other hand, there are many responsible authorities such as the St. Kitts and Nevis International Ship Registry (SkanReg), which have de-flagged all eight vessels identified by UANI. Other notable registries with a good track record include the Tanzania-Zanzibar International Register of Shipping, the Maritime Administration of Gabonese Republic, and the Tuvalu Ship Registry.

The Ghost Armada: The List

UANI has compiled a list of vessels suspected to have been involved in the transfer of Iranian crude oil and/or petroleum products, so that the entire community of flag registries may act in concert to “stop the hop.”

In its reply to UANI the Tuvalu Ship Registry suggested: “it is our opinion that vessel registries should make public the information they have relating to vessels and owners that seek to support the Iranian / Syrian regime just as how TSR has done. This will save time and cut out the bureaucracy of signing agreements and surely result in a more effective way of stamping out “flag-hopping”.

UANI agrees and we intend to update this list monthly. We encourage all flag states to routinely check this list to confirm whether vessels suspected of involvement in the illicit transfer of Iranian oil are seeking to register under their flags.

DOWNLOAD LIST

IMO Vessel Name Date Added Current Flag* Former Flags
9387152 ZENITH FAITH COOK ISLANDS
9226009 YONG CHANG SHUN HANG MARSHALL ISLANDS
9572111 YAMUNA (EX: ARGO) COOK ISLANDS
9360398 Y L W COOK ISLANDS
9215103 WANIJ PANAMA
9200861 TRUGEN COMOROS
9220940 TROPHY COOK ISLANDS
9546710 SUA COOK ISLANDS
9256987 STAR TWINKLE 6 PANAMA
9235737 SOMERSET PANAMA
9237412 SEASKY (EX: HONTAO) PANAMA
9192258 RUBY GUYANA (FALSE)
9114608 ROMINA GUYANA (FALSE)
9511179 PONTUS PALAU
9267948 OCEAN GUARDIAN (EX: TIARA) PANAMA GABON
9233973 MERMAID 5 (EX: MERMAID T) COOK ISLANDS
9308766 MAHAVIR UNKNOWN GABON
9236731 KURDOS (EX: BOSL) PANAMA
9220952 JANET PANAMA
9427146 INDIRA COOK ISLANDS
9164500 GLOBAL STAR PANAMA
9136113 GLOBAL RANI GUINEA-BISSAU
9451501 GLOBAL GENESIS COOK ISLANDS
9125724 GLOBAL EVEREST PANAMA
8982888 GLOBAL EMERALD PANAMA
9309227 GLOBAL DIGNITY PANAMA
9113094 GLOBAL CREST PANAMA
9221267 GLOBAL BEAUTY COOK ISLANDS
9311309 GLOBAL ANGEL PANAMA
9190078 GLOBAL ACE PANAMA
9404572 FOSHAN PANAMA
9280366 CASINOVA LIBERIA
9080493 BARON (EX: DARAN) GUYANA (FALSE)
9208473 AZZA PANAMA
9121699 ANDIA PALAU
9299745 APUS (EX: HS ARGE) ESWATINI (FALSE) LIBERIA
9256975 TML PANAMA
9275995 OCEANIC II HONG KONG
9258595 LADY ELISE COOK ISLANDS
9242481 CHINTAMANI COOK ISLANDS GABON
9220914 BIRDHUM PALAU
9282522 BAXTER UNKNOWN BELIZE
9176773 ANGEL‡ TANZANIA
9052331 XAVIA (EX: DOLPHIN (ex CLARA) SAO TOME & PRINCIPE (FALSE)
9204805 SYRMA (EX: SUMMER 5) SAO TOME & PRINCIPE (FALSE) TANZANIA, PANAMA
9226011 SINCERE 02 PANAMA KIRBATI
9232450 FAUSTA (EX: RENEEZ) GUYANA (FALSE) PALAU
9102239 PENNY H (ex WU XIAN) UNKNOWN TANZANIA
9312896 KRASNOYARSK (EX: NS CREATION) RUSSIA GABON, LIBERIA
9179701 INFINITY (EX: NOLAN, OSLO) GUYANA (FALSE) PANAMA
9203928 NEBULAX (EX: FOREVER RICH) PANAMA HONG KONG
9209300 MOLECULE (EX SALVADOR, GLORY) CAMEROON KIRBATI, PALAU
9191711 MEHLE GUYANA (FALSE) PANAMA
9212759 OLYMPICS (EX: LADY SOFIA) GUYANA (FALSE) PANAMA
9254082 KOHANA (EX: IRISES) PANAMA
9143506 JEWELS (EX: GC PRINCESS, GLORY HARVEST) TANZANIA PANAMA
9256858 INDA (EX: LINDA, LADY M, LADY D) RUSSIA
9203930 FOUR PLUS (EX: ULTRA VIGAROUS, YING XIN, YONG XIN) GUYANA (FALSE) CAMEROON, HONG KONG
9257010 FORTUNE GALAXY UNKNOWN PANAMA
9230907 MOONBAY (EX: ETERNAL FORTUNE) GUYANA (FALSE) PANAMA
9185530 SANAR (EX: DAWN II, SPAR) GUYANA (FALSE) PANAMA
9294795 AVIOR (EX: BS BRAVO) SAO TOME & PRINCIPE (FALSE) TANZANIA, GABON
9150365 ARTURA GUYANA (FALSE) PANAMA
9233208 ANNA (EX: QUEEN SERE, RAIN DROP) GUYANA (FALSE) TANZANIA, COOK ISLANDS, PANAMA
9157765 ABYSS UNKNOWN PALAU, VIETNAM
9018464 ZULU (EX DOLPHIN)‡ GUYANA (FALSE) TANZANIA
9134165 YU I (EX: VAYU SHAKTI) GABON
8744107 YONG XIANG 29‡ CHINA
9231511 YONG TAI PANAMA
9297319 SALVIA (EX: YANNIS) COOK ISLANDS PANAMA
9294290 XIDI PANAMA
9301005 WORLD PERFORMANCE COOK ISLANDS LIBERIA
9263215 WIN WIN (EX: COSGREAT LAKE) PANAMA LIBERIA
9247431 WILMA II (EX: REMY, EASTERN PRIDE) PANAMA LIBERIA
9288095 WEN YAO COOK ISLANDS PANAMA
9773301 WEALTHY STAR (EX: FULL STAR)‡ GUYANA (FALSE) HONG KONG
9248461 WAN HE (EX: CHEM SINYOO) BARBADOS
9232022 VT QUEEN (EX: GREENER VI, PRO TRADER) HONG KONG
9203265 VORAS (EX: ERMIS, TIANA) CAMEROON SAO TOME & PRINCIPE (FALSE), SAO TOME & PRINCIPE, GUYANA, TANZANIA
9422988 NEW MILOS (EX: VOLANS, SUPER SAPPHIRE, OKEANOS, MARE, AL KHALIDIA, VICTORY 1) BARBADOS BAHAMAS, CAMEROON, GABON, LIBERIA
9236250 VIRGO UNKNOWN PANAMA
9154000 VIOLET 1 PANAMA
9262156 VIGOR (EX: SANTA MARINA) PANAMA MALTA
9208136 VIGO (EX: MERCY 08) VIETNAM
9233739 VETER CAMEROON
9233349 VESNA BELIZE SAO TOME & PRINCIPE, DJIBOUTI
9326055 VERONICA III PANAMA
9187435 VERGIOS BELIZE
9007386 VENUS 7 PANAMA
9274563 VELA GAS COOK ISLANDS PANAMA
9370537 VALANO PANAMA
9224805 OXIS (EX: UZOR) CAMEROON
9231901 URGANE I (EX: VENICE, INTISAR) PANAMA
9247780 TURACO (EX: DATURA) PANAMA LIBERIA
9206035 TULJA KALYANI (EX: ROWAN, LATIN VENTURE, PACIFIC BRAVO) NIGERIA LIBERIA, SIERRA LEONE, COMOROS, DJIBOUTI
8912558 TULIP (EX: GAS ORCHID) CAMEROON DJIBOUTI
9041655 TRIS GAS CAMEROON ST KITTS & NEVIS
9252072 TRIMA (EX: EMERALD SEA) ST KITTS & NEVIS PANAMA
9222443 TRICIA II (EX: TIBURTINA, ARABELA, KYOTO) COMOROS PANAMA
9231509 TREND (EX: MM STRENGTH, SPM STRENGTH) BELIZE LIBERIA
IMO Vessel Name Date Added Current Flag* Former Flags
7230666 WHITE PURL UNKNOWN PANAMA
9199828 VENTURA (EX: GULF VENTURE, LEVIATHAN, ELISA SEA, ARK RESCUE) UNKNOWN ST KITTS & NEVIS, CAMEROON, GABON, TANZANIA
9248485 URANUS (ex AZTEC, HERMES, CALLIOP) UNKNOWN TANZANIA, GUYANA, CAMEROON
9246138 TELSA (EX: TELLUS, ELLA IX / MARS V) ST KITTS & NEVIS CAMEROON, COMOROS, GABON, TOGO
8902993 STANDORF UNKNOWN PANAMA
9253064 SOTHYS UNKNOWN VIETNAM
8617055 SIMBA (ex ORE) SAMOA (FALSE) TANZANIA
8614467 QUEEN 1 (EX: SEA PRINCES) GUYANA (FALSE) GUYANA, PANAMA
9208057 SEA GLAMOUR (ex SEA ELEGANCE) PANAMA
9070149 SAAVI (ex MAHARAJA) PANAMA
9133587 PABLO (EX: MOCKINGBIRD (EX: HELIOS (EX ADISA, SIRO 1) GABON TANZANIA, COOK ISLANDS, CAMEROON
9105102 OCEAN RI (EX: MEADOWS, OCEAN RICH, CHANG HAI) PALAU COOK ISLANDS
9150767 MR NAUTILUS CAMEROON
9144067 ION (ex GORI/SANREMO/STRENGTH 1) CAMEROON
9201592 INGRID (ex SUPER LADY) UNKNOWN PANAMA, SIERRA LEONE
9081837 HAZEL (ex CLARA) UNKNOWN COMOROS
9118393 G STAR (ex ENERGY STAR) ST KITTS & NEVIS THAILAND
9159660 FREESIA I (ex LA ROSA I) UNKNOWN PANAMA
9102265 EM VITALITY UNKNOWN COOK ISLANDS
9212864 EM LONGEVITY SINGAPORE
9166417 BRAD (EX: BRADLEY, SEAGER) ST KITTS & NEVIS COMOROS, PANAMA
9123192 AVENTINE UNKNOWN PANAMA
9200964 ANASTASIA I UNKNOWN PANAMA
9111644 ALBA SUN (ex EAGLE BEAUMONT) UNKNOWN PANAMA
9172583 ALANA (ex FALCON PRIDE) ANTIGUA & BARBUDA LIBERIA
9304667 SKIPPER (EX: ADISAJ)‡ GUYANA (FALSE) PANAMA
9188788 JAL GAMINI (EX: PUTRI SAMUDRA, KANHA PRIDE) UNKNOWN TANZANIA, TOGO, PALAU, CAMEROON

* Change of flag due to UANI intervention

‡ Vessel was sanctioned prior to inclusion on UANI’s public list of vessels suspected of involvement in Iran. The vessel remains on UANI’s list as it is currently foreign-flagged or ship-tracking platforms have failed to update the flag to unknown.

The vessels italicized indicate that the vessel was sanctioned after inclusion on UANI’s public list of vessels suspected of involvement in the illicit transfer of Iranian oil.