Logistics: Iranian Tankers Go Dark

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April 18, 2012: Iran is under increasingly damaging economic sanctions in an effort to get them to halt their nuclear weapons program. Iran is fighting back in clever ways. For example, it is using its fleet of 39 oil tankers to secretly (or as secretly as possible) export oil for sale on the black market. This is done by having its tankers turn off their satellite location equipment (which international law insists be used so ships can be tracked, unless there is a good reason for not doing so) and secretly deliver the oil to a customer who will pay to an account (not identified as Iranian) outside of Iran. The buyer gets a discount on the price, to compensate for the legal and commercial damage if they are caught. And some of these buyers will get caught because Western intelligence agencies have already noted the odd movements of an increasing number of Iranian tankers. Commercial analysts have openly commented on the growing number of Iranian tankers that have turned their tracking devices off and the declining amount of oil officially shipped from Iran.

Iran is playing a dangerous, and desperate, game here. Iran needs the money and most of the world wants to continue applying pressure to get the nuclear weapons program stopped. This could end up in Iranian tankers engaged in this illegal oil trade being seized by Western warships. Iran has threatened war if more pressure is applied to them. Stopping Iran's secret oil trade would definitely be more pressure. But going to war would only worsen Iran's economic and logistical situation. Which is why many neighbors of Iran and the West in general, consider Iranian threats a bluff. But it would be a bluff of a different kind if Iran were making these threats while armed with nukes.

 


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