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Kurdish oil cargo ‘unloaded’ at sea, destination a mystery Ship anchored in South China Sea

 SINGAPORE, July 31, (RTRS): Part of a Kurdish oil cargo has been offloaded from a Greek-managed tanker into another tanker in the South China Sea, but mystery surrounds the identity of the buyer and where the two tankers are headed.

The United Emblem, which is carrying more than 1 million barrels of oil, is one of three tankers loaded with oil from the autonomous Kurdish region, which is trying to sell oil independently.
Iraqi Kurdistan is locked in a bitter legal and diplomatic struggle with Baghdad over international oil sales.
A US judge on Tuesday refused a request by Baghdad, citing a lack of jurisdiction, to seize 1 million barrels of oil aboard the United Kalavrvta tanker, which has been anchored off the port of Galveston since the weekend.
The Kurdistan Regional Government filed a letter with the Texas court arguing its sales are allowed under the Iraqi constitution.
Another tanker carrying Kurdish oil, the United Leadership, has been anchored off Morocco for almost two months.
All three tankers are managed by Marine Management Services MC, a Piraeus-based shipping company.
A senior executive at Marine Manage-ment Services confirmed the ship-to-ship transfer involving the United Emblem took place in a “legitimate operation”.
The ship is “fixed to a legitimate charterer and performing legitimate operations,” said Kostas Georgopoulos, the chartering manager at Marine Management Services.
“The ship is still in international waters,” he added.
Georgopoulos declined to name the charterer or the details of the oil transfer but was aware the 161,724 dwt (deadweight tonne) ship was carrying oil from Iraqi Kurdistan.
Around half of the ship’s cargo could have been offloaded, according to Reuters AIS ship tracking data.
Data on July 28 showing the ship was anchored with a 100 percent draft indicated the tanker was fully loaded. The ship’s draft was 74 percent of the maximum when the information was updated on Thursday, compared with around 60 percent if the tanker was empty.
The ship is anchored in the South China Sea about 20 km off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia and about 50 km north-east of Singapore, Reuters data showed.
Georgopoulos did not know where the ship was headed next, saying the charterers were controlling the vessel.
“It’s not us controlling the tanker. We are expecting the issuing of orders,” Georgopoulos said.
The captain of the ship said when reached by telephone: “You can’t speak to me. Please don’t call again. Whatever information you need get it from my owners. Thank you very much. Bye. Bye.”
The London based insurer of the ship, the London P&I Club, declined to comment specifically on the vessel or its cargo, although director Steve Roberts, said: “We have had some contact” with Marine Management Services.
The United Emblem loaded the oil cargo at Ceyhan in Turkey in mid-June, according to Reuters data, although exports have now stopped because storage at the port is at capacity forcing the Kurdistan Regional Government to shut-off its pipeline.
The United States has publicly opposed direct oil sales, fearing they could contribute to the break-up of Iraq, and instead believes Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government should reach an agreement on how the proceeds from oil sales should be split.
A high-stakes dispute over a tanker carrying $100 million in Iraqi Kurdish crude took a surprising turn on Tuesday when a US judge said she lacked jurisdiction given the ship’s distance from the Texas shore and urged that the case be settled in Iraq.
Federal magistrate Nancy K. Johnson said that because the tanker was some 60 miles (100 km) offshore, and outside territorial waters, an order she issued late on Monday for US Marshals to seize the cargo could not be enforced.
She said the dispute between Iraq’s central government and the autonomous region of Kurdistan should be resolved in Iraq.
Overnight Johnson signed an order directing the marshals to seize the 1 million barrels of crude from the United Kalavrvta tanker anchored in the Gulf of Mexico. Tuesday she scheduled a conference to give the two sides a chance to state their case.
The ship could simply sail away, though it also could offload its cargo for delivery to another US Gulf of Mexico port outside of Texas, lawyers said.
Baghdad’s lawyers had laid claim to the oil in a lawsuit filed on Monday, saying Kurdistan sold the crude without permission from the central government.
The latest dispute over exports reflects Iraqi Kurds’ emboldened steps toward seizing greater political and economic autonomy, with oil sales seen as central to Kurdish dreams of independence that Baghdad opposes.
While the sides fought the legal battle in Houston, they pressed the political fight in the courtroom of public opinion.
Iraq warned companies against trying to buy other shipments of Kurdish crude after it won the seizure order, while Kurdish leaders asserted their right to sell the oil but said they would face obstacles.
“The Ministry of Oil in Baghdad continues to interfere directly and indirectly with KRG oil sales,” said Karwan Zebari, an official with the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representation in Washington.
A lawyer in Houston for the Kurds said the regional government would file its own claim of ownership for the cargo, a sign the legal standoff might continue.
Meanwhile, a Kurdish government official said export plans would be hurt.
“We have to acknowledge that the ruling of the US court will definitely have negative consequences on the region’s attempts to market its oil,” he said of the order to seize the cargo. “Buyers now will start to step back and think twice before purchasing Kurdish crude.”

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