An Iranian oil tanker being pursued by the US has turned off its tracking beacon, renewing speculation it is heading to Syria.
The Adrian Darya 1 – formerly known as the Grace 1 – is carrying 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude worth about $130m (£108.4m).
It switched off its Automatic Identification System (AIS) on Monday afternoon, according to the ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com.
At its last report, the vessel was 45 nautical miles (83km) off the coast of Lebanon and Syria, heading north.
According to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, intelligence suggests the vessel will head to the Syrian port of Tartus – a short distance from its last-known position.
The disappearance of the Adrian Darya 1 follows a pattern of Iranian oil tankers turning off their AIS in an attempt to hide where they deliver their cargo, with US sanctions targeting Iran’s energy industry.
Ranjith Raja, a lead analyst at the data firm Refinitiv, claims vessels take the action once they near Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea.
Based on the fact Turkey has stopped taking Iranian crude oil – and Syria has historically taken about one million barrels a month from Iran – he said it was likely the ship would be offloading its cargo in Syria.
Mr Raja added: “The Iranian oil going to Syria is not something new. This is a known fact.”
Oil shipment website Tanker Trackers agreed, tweeting that it was “now safe to assume she is in Syria’s territorial waters”.
Good morning, everyone. It’s been over 12 hours since #AdrianDarya1 was last transmitting her position. It is now safe to assume she is in Syria’s territorial waters. We’ll hopefully be able to spot her during the day in satellite imagery. Thanks. #OOTT pic.twitter.com/JXitL52rOu
— TankerTrackers.com, Inc.⚓️? (@TankerTrackers) September 3, 2019
Iranian officials have not revealed who bought the Adrian Darya 1’s cargo, only confirming that it has been sold.
The US, which has sought to seize the tanker, alleged in federal court that the ship is owned by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary organisation answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
America recently described the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation, giving it greater power to pursue seizing its assets.
US officials have since urged countries not to help the vessel, which said it would be heading to Greece and Turkey before turning off its tracker on Monday.
Authorities in Gibraltar alleged the ship was heading for a refinery in Baniyas, Syria, when they seized it in early July – but after holding it for several weeks, it was released.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reiterated on Tuesday that Tehran will not enter into direct talks with the US unless Washington rejoins the 2015 nuclear deal that President Donald Trump withdrew America from more than a year ago.
Mr Trump’s withdrawal and the imposition of heavy economic sanctions on Iran have blocked it from selling its crude oil abroad – a crucial source of government funding for the Islamic Republic.
Tensions have spiked across the Persian Gulf over mysterious tanker explosions, the shooting down of a US military surveillance drone by Iran, and America deploying more troops and warplanes to the region.
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