Empire Navigation pleads guilty to shipping Iranian oil

Greece’s Empire Navigation has admitted to violating US sanctions by shipping a cargo of Iranian crude oil aboard the suezmax tanker
Suez Rajan.

In April, Washington seized the Marshall Islands tanker after it was caught transferring oil off Singapore. Following the arrest, Empire Navigation entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the US, pledging to transport some 800,000 barrels of illicit Iranian crude to the US for seizure and forfeiture.

According to an unsealed filing, the US government had asked the court to seal the proceedings given that “revelation of this action was likely to cause security risks to the defendants, the government, as well as the vessel and its crew members.” 

Public documents show the Athens-based company pleaded guilty to smuggling sanctioned crude and agreed to a $2.45m fine and three years of probation.

The action against Empire Navigation represented the first public admission by US authorities that the ship’s cargo had been seized.

Meanwhile, the delay in offloading the Suez Rajan’s cargo to the buyer’s refinery in Houston had also become a political issue for the Biden administration, as the ship had sat for months in the Gulf of Mexico, with companies reporting being worried about Iranian retaliation.

In August, another tanker managed by Empire Navigation, the 50,000 dwt Euphrates took on the first load of a controversial crude cargo. As of Thursday, the 2011-built Suez Rajan was still in the US Gulf, with AIS data showing “restricted maneuverability”.

The case surrounding the vessel previously owned by Oaktree Capital Management escalated tensions between the US and Iran. Since it headed for the US, Iran has seized two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, including the Marshall Islands-flagged suezmax Advantage Sweet carrying a cargo of crude for Chevron. 

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