According to filings by the United States Government in a federal court proceeding pending in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the United States seized Iranian petroleum found on board the Liberian-flagged tanker, M/T ACHILLEAS in February 2021.   According to a Verified Complaint for Forfeiture In Rem filed in Civil Action No.  21-cv-305, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were “investigating Iran’s transportation and sale of oil products for the benefit of sanctioned Iranian entities, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC].”  According to the Complaint, the oil “originated from oil terminals in Iran, where it was originally loaded onto two Suezmax tankers affiliated, respectively, with the National Iranian Tanker Company (“NITC”) and the [IRGC Quds Force]. 

The Complaint details a series of surreptitious ship-to-ship transfers, culminating with a transfer of Iranian oil to M/T ACHILLEAS.  The Complaint alleges Fujairah International Oil and Gas Company (“FIOGC”) entered into a charter agreement with Achilleas Carriers Corp., the owner of the M/T ACHILLEAS, to carry Basrah [Iraq] light crude oil to China.  However, the United States alleged that “FIOGC provided a fraudulent bill of lading” falsely indicating that the oil was of Iraqi origin when in fact it originated in Iran.  Following a series of ship-to ship transfers involving at least two other Suezmax tankers, some of whom were engaged in “AIS spoofing,” a technique where a ship manipulates its Automatic Identification System (“AIS”) transponder to transmit false data such as a ship’s location or name, the oil was transferred to the M/T ACHILLEAS in the Gulf of Oman on November 17, 2020.

Apparently, the U.S. agencies involved in the investigation were assisted by a confidential informant, described in the Complaint as a “Confidential Human Source.”  According to the Complaint, the Confidential Human Source revealed to the U.S. investigating agencies that a company called Ms. Benchmark Ship Management (“Benchmark”) made arrangements on multiple occasions over the last year to purchase Iranian crude oil from IRGC controlled entities.  The Confidential Human Source stated that Benchmark has handled shipments of Iranian petroleum products purchased from both Iranian Government and private entities using infrastructure throughout the UAE and abroad.  The Confidential Human Source also stated that Benchmark utilizes forged origin documents to hide the Iranian origin of the petroleum products it ships from shipping companies and port authorities in order to avoid scrutiny and detection that the cargo is being shipped by IRGC front companies.

 The owners of M/T ACHILLEAS have denied any knowing involvement in the illicit transfer of Iranian Oil.  According to a letter sent to UANI by the solicitors retained by the owners and managers of the M/T ACHILLEAS, the “Owners were part of a U.S. operation to bring Iranian [oil] to the U.S.” and engaged in “continued cooperation” with the U.S.  The owners of the ACHILLEAS have told the U.S. that they have received threats in connection with the case.

The U.S. Government has neither publicly stated nor advised UANI that M/T ACHILLEAS was cooperating with the U.S. Government or that its owners or managers acted as the Confidential Human Source to the United States.  UANI has not independently confirmed whether the owners or managers of the M/T ACHILLEAS were, in fact, cooperating with the U.S. Government.  UANI believes that ACHILLEAS’ claimed cooperation with the investigating U.S. agencies, assuming the solicitors’ statements concerning such cooperation to be accurate, is to be applauded. UANI believes that all tanker owners and managers should actively cooperate with the United States in the enforcement of sanctions against the transfer and sale of Iranian Oil.