Greece to Release Shadowy Russian Tanker
Greek authorities have decided to release a Russian-flagged tanker that they were detaining. After citing European Union sanctions leveled against Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, Greek authorities have now determined according to a report from Reuters that they have no legal grounds to continue to detain the tanker. The decision comes despite the fact the vessel was previously sanctioned by the United States and watchdog groups are reporting that the vessel is involved in the sanctioned trade in Iranian oil.
Typical of the vessels involved in the efforts to avoid U.S. and European sanctions on the Iranian oil industry, the ownership of the tanker and even its identity are in question. The 115,500 dwt tanker which is being identified as Pegas apparently has been waiting in the Mediterranean for possibly more than a year seeking a buyer for its cargo. The vessel was reportedly underway when it experienced engine troubles south of Turkey and put into a bay off the Greek island of Evia, where it remained when the Greek authorities detained the vessel which has a crew of 19 aboard.
The Russian Embassy in Athens said that it was investigating the reports that a tanker flying the Russian flag was being detained. They protested the illegal detention.
In addition to the question of EU sanctions launched mid-month blocking Russian flagged vessels, the Pegas had also been one of five vessels the U.S. took action against on February 22. The U.S. Treasury Department cited the vessels as being owned by PSB Lizing OOO, a designated subsidiary of Promsvyazbank. The U.S. included the bank in its first wave of sanctions against Russia saying that it was a systemically important Russian state-owned financial institution and Russia’s eighth largest financial institution.
The bank, however, contends that it has not owned the vessels since 2021. Further, it was reported that the vessel had been sold yet again in March 2022 and that it was properly known as Lana and not Pegas.
The watchdog group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) added further confusion to the situation reporting that the vessel was not loaded with Russian oil as originally believed but instead was carrying sanctioned Iranian crude. UANI, which tracks the movement of Iranian oil, contends that the tanker loaded 700,000 barrels of Iranian oil in August 2021 and has been looking for a buyer since then.
Reports indicated that they were attempting to sell the oil and offload it in Turkey. When the vessel was seized, it was believed it had been attempting to do a ship-to-ship transfer but was prevented in recent days by bad weather in the region. The movements of the vessel are also unclear as it appears to hide its AIS signal at times, another common tactic when a vessel is attempting to avoid the sanctions.
The Equasis database shows a checkered history for the vessel. Built in 2003, it operated as the Montiron till 2012, and then went through a series of name changes first to Herm and then Texas Star in 2012. It later became the Perun in 2020, the Pegas in 2021, and Equasis reports a name change to Lana on March 1, 2022, a week after it was designated by the U.S. The database says it came under the Russian flag in 2020 with its management moving between Transmorflot and PSB and currently back with Transmorflot.
The unnamed Greek officials cited by Reuter said the Hellenic Coast Guard had not yet informed the vessel that it was being released. Its AIS signal shows it is still anchored off the Greek Island.