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Is China’s Oil Shipping Fleet Going Dark? Tankers Are Turning Off Transponders

China’s tanker owning company Cosco Dalian, which was sanctioned by the U.S. two weeks ago for knowingly shipping Iranian oil, has seen one third of its oil tankers turn off their automatic identification system (AIS) transponders in the past week, Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing ship tracking data from Refinitiv Eikon.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. imposed sanctions on several Chinese tanker owners for shipping Iranian oil, including units of Cosco, who owns more than 40 oil tankers, including 26 supertankers, or the so called very large crude carriers (VLCCs).  

The U.S. slapped the sanctions on September 25 on a number of Chinese tanker-owning firms and executives for transporting Iranian oil in violation of the U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

“We are imposing sanctions on certain Chinese firms for knowingly engaging in a significant transaction for the transport of oil from Iran, including knowledge of sanctionable conduct, contrary to U.S. sanctions,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the end of September, while the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published a list of companies which are now sanctioned for knowingly dealing with Iranian oil.

According to Refinitiv Eikon data cited by Reuters, 14 ships owned by Cosco Dalian, including nine VLCCs, switched off their AIS transponders between September 30 and October 7. Six of the ships offline carry some oil on board, according to the ship-tracking data compiled by Reuters. 

According to Samir Madani of TankerTrackers.com, “It’s way too soon to conclude that the COSCO's Dalian Tanker fleet is going dark. I have 44 tankers on my list and 10 of them have a recent GPS position older than today.”

Of those 10 tankers, half are anchored, while the others are in the South China Sea, where there is bad SAT AIS signal, Madani tweeted on Wednesday.   

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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