Iran faces a struggle to increase oil exports because many of its tankers are tied up storing crude, some are not seaworthy, and foreign shipowners remain reluctant to carry its cargoes.
Tehran is seeking to make up for lost trade to Europe following the lifting of EU sanctions imposed in 2011 and 2012, which deprived it of a market that accounted for over a third of its exports and left it relying completely on Asian buyers.
Iran has 55-60 oil tankers in its fleet, a senior Iranian government official told Reuters. He declined to say how many were being used to store unsold cargoes, but industry sources said 25-27 tankers were parked in sea lanes close to terminals including Assaluyeh and Kharg Island for this purpose.
A further 11 Iranian tankers from the fleet were carrying oil to Asian buyers on Tuesday, according to Reuters shipping data and a source who tracks tanker movements. That was broadly in line with the number consistently committed to Asian runs since sanctions were lifted in January, putting more strain on the remaining available fleet.
This means foreign ships are needed for a big export push to Europe and elsewhere, said the industry sources, as Iran looks to meet its target of reaching pre-sanctions sales levels this year. But many owners, who are not short of business in a booming tanker market, are unwilling to take Iranian cargoes.