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Thursday, October 23, 2014


Is Kurdistan stashing oil in Israel? Consider this:
Of the 25 tankers that have left Turkey loaded with Kurdish oil since May, 13 have gone dark—just as the Kalavryta did on Aug. 26. Most of the time this happens somewhere in the Mediterranean, either off the coast of Malta or Cypress or Israel, or sometimes only a few miles away from Ceyhan. Although it’s not quite smuggling, “it’s about as dicey as it gets on the open seas,” says Charlie Papavizas, a maritime lawyer at Winston & Strawn, a law firm in Washington. “What the Kurds are doing is at the margins of the business, no doubt about that.”

Rather than delivering oil directly from port to port and creating a public record of the shipment, the Kurds are instead transferring oil from tanker to tanker at sea, often at night and often after switching off the ship’s electronic transponder that reports its position to satellites. When the transponder comes back on, the ship is usually miles away from its last known position and sitting higher in the water, which means its cargo is lighter. Shuffling the oil from ship to ship masks the ultimate buyer and makes it almost impossible to track. ClipperData, a New York-based company founded in 2012, uses customs data and ship-tracking information to follow the movements of tankers and estimate import volumes. Every time a ship docks in the U.S., Customs and Border Protection releases data on what it’s carrying. “It’s a real dog’s breakfast,” says Abudi Zein, ClipperData’s co-founder and chief operating officer. “You have to separate the olive oil from the crude oil.” ClipperData sells its information to about 50 clients, mostly oil traders and financial firms. The Kurdish ghost tankers have provided a particular challenge. “This is among the weirdest things we’ve ever seen,” Zein says. “You feel like a submarine chaser.”

Once a ship’s transponder goes off, detecting whether it’s unloaded its cargo to another ship is a matter of being able to narrow down the handful of vessels that are in its vicinity. ClipperData has built algorithms that can tell when two ships get within a tenth of a mile, or about 500 feet. “When they’re that close, they’re either transferring the oil or they’re crashing into each other,” Zein says. ClipperData has tracked one shipment of Kurdish oil going to Croatia, where it was bought by MOL, a Hungarian company, to run its refinery there. Three shipments have been delivered to Israel, each containing roughly 200,000 barrels, Zein says. Because neither of Israel’s two refineries is well-suited to process Kurdistan’s heavy crude, “what we’re now convinced of is that Kurdish crude is being stored in Israel,” he says.
One ship in particular caught Zein’s attention. On Aug. 2, about 15 miles off the coast of Malta, a tanker called the Genmar Strength suddenly got heavier, indicating some 200,000 barrels had been loaded onto it. At the same time, in almost exactly the same location, a ship called the Agisilaos unloaded the same amount of oil. The cargo was listed as a heavy crude consistent with Kurdish oil; it had been loaded onto the Agisilaos 10 days earlier at Ashkelon, Israel, while the ship’s transponder was off, Zein says. The Genmar Strength immediately headed west across the Atlantic. On Aug. 19 it delivered about 200,000 barrels of cargo to an asphalt plant outside Philadelphia. The plant is operated by Axeon Specialty Products, a chemical and asphalt company owned by private equity firm Lindsay Goldberg. A shipment of similar heavy oil arrived at the same plant in June. Axeon has said it is not buying Kurdish oil until the dispute over the Kalavryta is settled. Lindsay Goldberg did not reply to requests for comment.
Read the whole thing. Nigerian oil is also sometimes sold through what's known in the business as TTL (tanker top loading). But I've never heard of the tankers disappearing like that. Hmmm.

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At 8:56 PM, Blogger Sunlight said...

Shhhh!!! Loose lips sink ships...


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