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Iranian oil tanker turns off tracker, raising suspicion of taking fuel to Syria

Have they pulled a fast one?

The Iranian oil tanker which has been at the heart of controversy over the past few weeks and is being pursued by the US, has turned off its tracking beacon, leading to renewed suspicions that it will stop in Syria to deliver its cargo of fuel.

The Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as the Grace 1, switched off its Automatic Identification System (AIS) just before 16:00 GMT yesterday, with its last recorded location being 45 nautical miles (83 kilometres) off the coast of Syria and Lebanon while allegedly heading north. According to the website Vessel Finder, the ship was estimated to have had its delivery scheduled for 06:00 GMT this morning, with the client being officially unknown and the port of delivery not stated.

The vessel, which is carrying 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil worth around $130 million, is suspected of heading to Syria to drop off and sell its cargo to the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has claimed that Washington had intelligence that the Adrian Darya 1 would stop at the Syrian port of Tartus, which is a short distance from its last reported position.

This speculation is supported further by the fact that there are no other known customers who would take the oil, as even Turkey has stopped purchasing Iranian crude, whereas Syria has previously and regularly taken around 1 million barrels per month from Iran.

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The ship’s manoeuvres towards Syria come after two months of delays and controversy. It was detained by British naval forces and the authorities in Gibraltar in early July, being subjected to a court case regarding its intended destination of delivery and suspicions of it aiding the Assad regime.

It was then released in mid-August after Iran and the vessel itself guaranteed that it would not be delivering its load to Syria, something which was later denied by Iran. Its release came despite demands by the US to keep the tanker detained. Since then a chase has ensued in which the tanker was first thought to be heading to Greece, then Turkey, and now its lack of clarity and the switching off of its AIS has again raised suspicions that it was always heading to Syria.

The delivery of the oil to the Assad regime would be a direct violation of US and EU sanctions imposed on the regime due to the human rights violations and atrocities it has committed throughout the eight-year civil war in Syria.

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