**U.S. Senators Call for Action Against Iranian Oil Trade Violators**
A group of U.S. senators has taken a strong stance against tankers that are violating U.S. sanctions on the Iranian oil trade. In a letter addressed to the Panama Maritime Authority, the senators have called for investigations and de-flagging of these vessels. The letter emphasizes the importance of Panama, as a strong ally of the U.S. and a trade and security partner, taking action in this matter.
According to data from the non-profit watchdog group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a growing number of ships registered in Panama are involved in sanction evasion efforts. UANI has identified 383 vessels suspected of operating in the ghost fleet supporting Iran’s oil trade, a significant increase from the 70 tankers reported in November 2020. Out of these vessels, 189 are flagged in Panama. While Panama has de-flagged 28 of the 217 vessels of concern so far, the senators believe that more needs to be done to ensure compliance with sanctions.
Senators Robert Casey, Jr. of Pennsylvania and Marco Rubio of Florida are leading the campaign, along with 20 colleagues. They argue that Panama has been lax in enforcing sanctions, a concern also raised by UANI. Last week, the U.S. blacklisted four tankers involved in the trade supporting Iran and the Houthis, three of which were registered in Panama.
Although Panama has the highest number of vessels flagged for suspicious activity, it is important to note that Panama also has the largest ship registry, with 8,540 vessels as of the end of 2023. The vessels cited by UANI represent just over two percent of the Panama flag.
The senators’ letter highlights the well-documented tactics used by the ghost fleet to conceal the Iranian oil trade, which accounts for roughly a quarter of Iran’s revenue. These tactics include ship-to-ship oil transfers, turning off AIS signals, repainting vessels mid-voyage, using false documents, and flag hopping between registries.
While the current administration in Panama has made efforts to clean the registry, the senators express concerns that similar tactics could be used to evade U.S. sanctions on Russian oil, potentially aiding Russia’s actions in Ukraine and elsewhere.
The senators are calling on the Panama Maritime Authority to conduct thorough investigations into the ships listed in the appendix of their letter and to follow established procedures to de-flag these vessels. It is crucial for Panama to demonstrate its commitment to sanctions compliance and ensure that these illicit activities are not allowed to continue..