The US on Monday (Nov 5) is reimposing disciplinary measures targeting Iran's oil, shipping, insurance, and banking sectors in what US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called "the toughest sanctions ever placed" against Iran. In response, Tehran has reportedly turned off all oil tanker tracking systems as the sanctions take effect today.
Analysts at TankerTrackers.com, a watchdog that monitors production, refinement, shipping, and trading of crude oil on a global scale, revealed in late October all Iranian tanker vessels turned off their transponders to avoid international tracking for the first time since 2016.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen a blanket black-out. It’s very unique,” TankerTrackers co-founder Samir Madani told Sputnik News.
Madani said with the transponders turned off, the vessels can only be monitored using private satellite imagery. He believes that such a shift to lesser transparency is a ploy by Iran’s leadership to keep the international supply chains open amid US sanctions.
“Iran has around 30 vessels in the Gulf area, so the past 10 days have been very tricky, but it hasn’t slowed us down. We are keeping watch visually,” said co-founder Lisa Ward.
The analysts suggested that going dark could pose significant problems in pinpointing the date when a tanker loaded its crude cargo.
Between 2010 and 2015, when Iran was slapped with international sanctions, its oil industry discovered that it could keep crude on tankers off the Gulf coast to avoid supply chain disruptions.
According to TankerTrackers.com's research, there are currently six tankers with a total capacity of 11 million barrels moored offshore as floating storage, which allows Iran to continue deliveries.
Iran is the third-largest oil producer in OPEC, and the country’s First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri revealed in late October that Tehran had been exporting 2.5 million barrels per day over the past few months, said Sputnik.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticized the sanctions on Saturday, saying, President Trump had "disgraced" US prestige and would be the ultimate loser in the long-run.
"Sanctions from the United States will be reimposed at midnight tonight," Pompeo told CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday. He said Tehran must change its ways from supporting international terrorism.
Global oil markets were mixed on Monday, as the reintroduction of sanctions against Iran gave Washington's closest allies exemptions that allow oil to keep flowing to Tehan's biggest customers, mostly in Asia.
"All eyes will be on Iranian exports, whether there will be some cheating around US sanctions, and on how quickly production will fall," said Riccardo Fabiani, an analyst for Energy Aspects.
Iran said it would just ignore the sanctions. In doing so, the country would have severe difficulties maximizing oil exports since all trade in oil is cleared in US dollars, putting many international oil companies, traders, and banks off-limits to Iranian crude.
As explained above, the Trump administration issued exemptions to its closest allies in Asia that will continue importing Iranian oil, thus making sanctions less severe than previously anticipated.
However, with new research from TankerTrackers.com and less severe than previously thought sanctions, this would mean tracking Iranian supply could be difficult, as oversupply conditions are expected to return in 2019.