Indonesia has been cracking down on tankers in storage, lay-up or conducting ship-to-ship (STS) transfers in its waters without applying for permission, or operating in environmentally sensitive areas
The Indonesian Coast Guard reported it has caught red-handed an Iranian VLCC and a Chinese-controlled VLCC transferring cargo in Indonesian waters without permission on 24 January 2021.
In a similar coast guard clampdown, in December 2020, Malaysia expelled five internationally registered tankers that had anchored in its waters without permission.
The latest incident in Indonesia involves 2008-built, 317,400-dwt VLCC tanker Horse, which is part of the National Iranian Tanker Company fleet.
Horse was caught alongside Panama-registered, 2000-built, 306,400-dwt VLCC tanker Freya, which according to VesselsValue, was purchased by unknown Chinese interests in May 2020. Since then, Freya has made regular voyages to China from waters between Malaysia and Indonesia.
Indonesia reports the two VLCCs had their AIS switched off and were not flying national flags when the illegal STS operation was discovered. The VLCCs did not respond to radio requests.
The Indonesian Coast Guard discovered that cargo was being transferred from Horse to Freya, and a small amount of pollution was detected around Freya.
The Iranian crew of Horse and Chinese crew of Freya were arrested. The vessels have been detained and moved to Batum.
According to Reuters, in 2020, VLCC Horse delivered two cargoes of oil condensate to Venezuela.
The actual amount of crude oil and condensate produced by Iran is unclear. In January 2020, Iranian deputy oil minister Amir Hossein Zamaninia said the market would be able to absorb Iran’s maximum oil output of around 3.9M b/d to 4M b/d. According to Bloomberg, it is estimated that Iran is only producing half that amount.
The Iranians hold that exports are higher than oil analysts give credit for. Iranian oil minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said shipments have increased “dramatically.”
Iran continues to be a source of tensions in the Middle East. In the latest incident, a South Korean tanker was detained by Iranian forces.
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