China Oil Tanker Seen at Iran Port for First Time Since EU Ban

A Chinese supertanker able to haul 2 million barrels of crude sent a signal from Iran’s largest export terminal in what may be the first visit of its kind since a European ban on insuring shipments in July.

The Yuan Yang Hu, belonging to state-owned China Ocean Shipping (Group) Co., the country’s biggest shipping company, was at Kharg Island on March 21, according to vessel-tracking data from IHS Fairplay, a Redhill, England-based research company. The ship has since left the Persian Gulf, according to a signal today.

The European Union banned its member states from buying, financing and insuring Iranian oil shipments from July 1 last year, as the bloc joined the U.S. in pressuring the Persian Gulf state to stop its nuclear program. The move affected 95 percent of the world’s tanker fleet because the vessels were insured by companies following EU law. Iran says the program is for civilian purposes, while the west suspects a military intent.

“As far as I can see, this is the first confirmed visit to an Iranian port by a Chinese-owned crude oil carrier since the ban,” Richard Hurley, senior maritime data specialist at IHS Fairplay, said by e-mail today.

China Ocean Shipping, based in Beijing, didn’t respond to three emails sent between March 22 and March 26. A media official, who asked not to be identified because of company policy, said March 22, 26 and today that he was looking into the e-mailed questions about the ship and its insurance.

Skuld, the ship’s Oslo-based insurer, covers the tanker for protection and indemnity risks, it said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. That insurance is automatically invalidated by hauling Iranian oil, it said.

Opposes Sanctions
“China maintains normal and transparent energy cooperation with Iran in accordance with its own energy requirements,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said at a press conference in Beijing yesterday, when asked whether his government insures tankers going to Iran. “We obviously oppose some country imposing sanctions against another country according to their own domestic laws.”

There was speculation before and after the ban that the Chinese government would directly insure the cargoes or that the nation’s owners would seek alternative insurance.

“We insure ships on a yearly basis and do not usually know what particular activity a ship is engaged in at any one time,” Skuld said in its statement. “In general we only become aware of a particular ship’s location and cargo if there is an incident giving rise to a claim. An owner is not obliged to inform Skuld about the trade he is conducting with the vessel.”

“Our insurance conditions contain a provision that cover is automatically excluded if providing cover or paying a claim may expose Skuld to the risk of sanctions,” Skuld said.

“While we cannot comment on a particular member, we are very much aware of the EU restrictions on the provision of insurance,” Skuld said. “Compliance is of the utmost importance to us. We would point out that the operation of the exclusion is automatic – the exclusion will apply without us being required to give notice to owners.”

By Bloomberg

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