U.S. Bans Visas for Seafarers Who Help Move Iranian Oil

Royal Marines seize the Grace 1, July 4 (UK MoD)

Published Aug 16, 2019 5:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

In a message to the "maritime community" Thursday, the U.S. State Department said that it will use an anti-terrorism law to deny visas to seafarers who work aboard vessels carrying Iranian oil. The announcement came as the Iranian-controlled tanker Grace 1 prepared to get under way from Gibraltar, where she had been detained since July 4. 

"The United States assesses that the M/T Grace I was assisting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) by transporting oil from Iran to Syria. This could result in serious consequences for any individuals associated with the Grace I," said State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus in a statement. "The IRGC has been designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the United States. Crewmembers of vessels assisting the IRGC by transporting oil from Iran may be ineligible for visas or admission to the United States under the terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds . . . of the Immigration and Nationality Act."

Ortagus indicated that this would apply to the crew of the Grace 1, "consistent with our existing policies concerning those who provide material support to the IRGC."

In a brief social media statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a succinct description of the policy. "A message to all mariners – if you crew an IRGC or other [Foreign Terrorist Organization]-affiliated ship, you jeopardize future entry to the U.S.," he wrote.  

The State Department policy would deny affected seafarers access to shore leave at U.S. ports. Thousands of seafarers call at America's seaports on international voyages every year, and unless they have a U.S. visa, they are not allowed to leave their ship. The State Department did not immediately address whether the travel ban would affect blacklisted seafarers' ability to transit through U.S. airports for crew changes.

The IRGC is an Iranian government entity, and it is deeply intertwined with the Iranian economy. By one estimate, its diversified civilian businesses account for about one third of Iran's total economic activity. For non-oil commodities, seafarers could have difficulty determining whether an Iranian cargo is an IRGC cargo.

In the case of transloaded cargoes, the commodity's origins could be even more opaque, even for those with extensive resources and access to all the available cargo documentation. On Friday, publicly-listed Australian conglomerate Incitec Pivot moved quickly to respond to a report that one of its subsidiaries had accidentally received on board its chartered vessel a non-zero quantity of urea originating in Iran. The product was picked up in Bandar Abbas by the bulker CS Future, then transloaded onto the Incitec-chartered vessel Bulk Aquila at the Chinese port of Lianyungang, according to The Guardian. 

In a statement, Incitec Pivot said that one of its subsidiaries ordered a cargo of urea from a Chinese supplier, but rejected part of the cargo as some of the cargo "did not meet its origin verification requirements." Incitec did not confirm the alleged Iranian origin of the noncompliant cargo. The Chinese supplier undertook to offload the cargo, and the work to remove it from the Bulk Aquila has now been completed. 

[Correction: This article originally stated that an Incitec subsidiary had accidentally purchased a cargo of urea from Iran; this is imprecise, as the Incitec subsidiary ordered a generic cargo of urea from a Chinese supplier, a portion of which was obtained in a manner that did not meet Incitec's origin verification requirements and allegedly originated in Iran. The Incitec subsidiary did not accidentally purchase the cargo from a sanctioned source directly. Contrary to previous reports, this Chinese supplier, not the Incitec subsidiary, made the arrangements to offload the noncompliant cargo.]