UANI Impact: 100 Smuggling Vessels Stripped Of Flags

Tanker Tracking Campaign Stymies Iranian Sanctions Busting Schemes

(New York, N.Y.)—United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) today announced that its work to identify and detect rogue vessel operators engaged in Iranian regime oil and gas smuggling has resulted in 100 vessels being stripped of their flags by authorities worldwide.   

Every vessel must be registered to a flag state in order to travel globally, and docking rights are predicated on being registered to a flag state. These flag states are responsible for enforcing regulations over vessels registered under their flag. UANI works to identify rogue operators misusing flags as part of Iranian regime smuggling activities and alerts relevant authorities to take action. When its vessels are "de-flagged,” Iran is unable to complete smuggling activities that generate the export revenue that it uses to fund terrorism and its nuclear program.

Often accompanied by the formation of new shell and front companies, ownership and name changes, and even alterations to ships’ physical markings, flag-hopping, which involves repeatedly switching a ship’s flag to different national registries, is a blight on legitimate maritime commerce. Nevertheless, the use of such a tactic is evidence that efforts to disrupt smuggling are effective. As a direct result of UANI’s tracking and alerting efforts, numerous vessels have been forced to “hop” from registry to registry as they continue to be de-flagged, including:

  • URANUS (ex: AZTEC) (IMO: 9248485), currently sailing under an unknown flag, prior to which it hopped from Cameroon, Guyana, and Tanzania.
  • DIAMOND (ex: YOLANDA) (IMO: 9255945), currently sailing under the flag of Tanzania, prior to which it hopped from St Kitts & Nevis, Panama, Sierra Leone, and Guyana.
  • SUPER SAPPHIRE (IMO: 9422988), currently sailing under the flag of The Bahamas, prior to which it hopped from Cameroon, Gabon, and Liberia.
  • TELLUS (IMO: 9246138), currently sailing under the flag of Cameroon, prior to which it hopped from Comoros, Gabon, and Togo.

There is increasing urgency for the Biden Administration to strictly enforce U.S. sanctions and employ additional remedies, including individually designating vessels and/or their owners/operators. In March 2020, UANI reported that Iran exported 825,000 barrels per day in violation of U.S. sanctions. That figure has soared in the last 15 months. In March 2022, UANI estimates that Iran exported 1.34 million barrels per day  —  including just under 900,000 barrels per day to China. Citing UANI research, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) noted in February that China paid $10 billion for Iranian oil in 2021 alone.

UANI will continue to identify and detect rogue vessels suspected of transporting Iranian oil and gas. We will continue to notify the relevant maritime activities of the vessels’ behaviors and strongly encourage flag states to check Stop the Hop II: The Ghost Armada Grows for an updated list of vessels suspected of being engaged in this activity. 

To read United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI)’s resource Iran Tanker Tracking, please click here. 

To read the UANI blog post Stop the Hop II: The Ghost Armada Grows, please click here.