Iran significantly increased its illicit export of heavily sanctioned crude oil, busting through tough U.S. sanctions meant to halt the regime’s access to hard currency, according to a watchdog group.
Iranian oil exports peaked at 1.2 million barrels per day in September, a significant increase from the 70,000 barrels per day it was exporting in April, according to United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), an advocacy group tracking Tehran’s efforts to bust U.S. sanctions on its crude oil trade.
Recent Stories in National Security
New satellite images show the National Iranian Tanker Company, the regime’s heavily sanctioned oil fleet, engaged in ship-to-ship transfers of crude in the middle of the Persian Gulf. By offloading supplies in the ocean, Iran can obscure the origin of its crude oil and avoid detection by international observers, according to UANI, which released photographic evidence detailing Iran’s actions on Wednesday.
Oil is a key source of income for the Iranian regime, which has seen its access to hard currency dry up under the Trump administration’s "maximum pressure" campaign. The Washington Free Beacon first reported in August about a significant uptick in the number of Iranian "ghost ships" navigating across the region. This, too, is part of Iran’s efforts to hide ships from the international community and continue raking in profits from the sale of crude oil.
"This month should serve as a warning to the U.S. Administration: Iran is clearly capable of continuing to export in large quantities despite tightening sanctions enforcement," UANI said in a report on its findings.
UANI discovered from satellite imagery that more than one-third of Iran’s oil exports were conducted via ship-to-ship transfers around the country’s coastline. At least 20 foreign vessels participated in these transfers with Iran, in direct violation of U.S. sanctions.
In early September, for instance, UANI tracked an Iranian tanker’s interaction with a Gabon-flagged ship. The countries allegedly exchanged crude supplies, prompting UANI to lodge a formal complaint with the Gabonese maritime authority. This resulted in Gabon removing its flag from the ship in question.
Other transfers have taken place with vessels showing flags from Saint Kitts and Nevis and Panama.
Venezuela "is also continuing to prove a significant and openly defiant destination for Iranian exports," according to UANI. At least two million barrels of Iranian crude reached Venezuela in mid-September, underscoring the increasingly close relationship between Tehran and dictator Nicolas Maduro.