Reports on Sunday said that a tanker off the coast of Texas was being offloaded of its oil cargo. The report seems to indicate that months of tensions in the Persian Gulf, where Iran continues to harass shipping, could increase. The saga of a tanker at the center of the controversy has gone on for months since it was identified in the spring as potentially holding Iranian oil.
The Associated Press reported that “an American-owned oil tanker long suspected of carrying sanctioned Iranian crude oil began offloading its cargo near Texas late Saturday, tracking data showed, even as Tehran has threatened to target shipping in the Arabian Gulf over it.”
The report goes on to name the tanker as the Suez Rajan, which it says flies the Marshall Islands flag but is owned by a US firm. The report says that Iran’s IRGC has threatened to strike back against “those involved in offloading the cargo.
“Ship-tracking data showed the Marshall Islands-flagged Suez Rajan was undergoing a ship-to-ship transfer of its oil to another tanker, the Mr. Euphrates, near Galveston, Texas, some 70 kilometers (45 miles) southeast of Houston. That likely will allow the cargo to be offloaded,” the report said.
This tanker is one of many that have been in the spotlight over the last years due to various controversies involving Iran. According to the reports the tanker had been off the coast of Singapore before “suddenly sailing for the Gulf of Mexico without explanation.
Analysts believe the vessel’s cargo likely had been seized by American officials, though there still were no public court documents early Sunday involving the Suez Rajan.” United Against Nuclear Iran had said in February that the tanker was suspected of carrying Iranian oil.
On February 15, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) identified illicit Iranian oil smuggling through a Ship-to-Ship Transfer to the vessel Suez Rajan, the organization said back in March 2023.
The owners of the ship, a series of firms, said they would investigate. Meanwhile, the ship was located in the Riau archipelago near Singapore. In the past, the US has seized cargo of tankers that have been transporting Iranian oil. As recently as April the US confiscated Iranian oil cargo, Reuters noted.
In June FT reported that “the US is expected to soon begin unloading oil from an Iranian vessel it seized which is now anchored off the coast of Texas, threatening to escalate a shadow tanker war with Tehran. The Suez Rajan arrived offshore of Galveston on May 29 and is at anchor some 70 miles from the Texas port, according to transponder location data and satellite imagery. The US Department of Justice seized the Suez Rajan under a court order with co-operation from at least one company involved with the vessel, the FT previously reported.”
US senators weigh in on oil dilemma
In another recent development, US senators had said the Biden administration should transfer the oil. There is believed to be some 800,000 barrels on the vessel. US Senator Joni Ernst was joined by Senators Richard Blumenthal, Lindsay Graham, Bill Hagerty, Kevin Cramer, and others in pushing for answers regarding the tanker on August 16.
“Senator Joni Ernst, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, led a bipartisan, bicameral effort calling on President Joe Biden to respond to Iranian threats against Americans and American companies that have prevented the transfer of seized oil from the Suez Rajan tanker off the coast of Texas for months,” a statement from his office said. The lawmakers wrote in part, “The ability for a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) to prevent the transfer of seized assets within U.S. territorial waters is an unprecedented intimidation effort that threatens to undermine our Nation’s security…We request that you work expeditiously to resolve the delay in the transfer of seized oil from the Suez Rajan and continue to enforce the law against Foreign Terrorist Organizations, such as the IRGC.”
Iran has engaged in a low-level tanker war in the Gulf, seizing and attacking ships since 2019. Numerous ships from various countries have been mined, attacked with drones, and even seized illegally by Iran. The US has sent more naval vessels to the Gulf to protect shipping.