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US finally unloads Iranian oil from seized tanker

The Iranian oil aboard the Suez Rajan sat unloaded off the coast of the United States for months amid threats from Iran, causing concern in Congress.
The Suez Rajan is pictured in this undated photo.

Seized Iranian crude oil was unloaded in the United States on Sunday, as tensions between Washington and Tehran remain high.

What happened: The Financial Times reported in April that the US Department of Justice seized the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker Suez Rajan. The tanker was carrying 800,000 barrels of Iranian crude oil to China and was brought to the US state of Texas in late May. US sanctions prohibit energy deals with Iran.

The oil sat in the Texas port near the city of Houston for months, however, amid Iranian threats. The Iranian navy confiscated the Advantage Sweet, a US-bound oil tanker, in the Gulf of Oman in April in an apparent retaliatory move. The Wall Street Journal and Reuters also reported that American shipping companies were reluctant to transfer the oil due to possible reprisals.

In July, a senior commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said last month that Iran would retaliate against any shipping company that offloads the Suez Rajan’s load.

Last week, a group of lawmakers led by Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote to US President Joe Biden inquiring as to whether IRGC threats were preventing the offloading of the oil.

“No American citizen or company should ever fear retaliation from an FTO for assisting in law enforcement activities or engaging in lawful commerce,” wrote the lawmakers, Al-Monitor reported at the time.

The oil was finally unloaded on Sunday. Reuters reported that the Liberia-flagged tanked MR Euphrates lined up next to Suez Rajan to transfer the latter’s oil.

The ship tracking website MarineTraffic showed Suez Rajan in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas on Monday at around 1 p.m. ET. MR Euphrates was still in Texas close to the port at the time, per the website.

Ernst reacted positively to the news on Sunday.

“Finally, after months of delay, the Biden administration has listened to my bipartisan call for action and signaled to Iran that the United States will not be complacent in the face of Iranian threats. The IRGC never should have been so emboldened to threaten American companies in our own waters,” she said in a statement sent to Al-Monitor.

Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency ran a report on Monday on the offloading of the oil, referring to the load as “stolen.” The Iranian government did not otherwise immediately comment on the matter.

Why it matters: The offloading of the oil comes at a time of significant tensions between the United States and Iran. Earlier this month, the United States sent a 3,000-strong contingent of US Marines and related personnel to the Red Sea. The move came in response to Iranian harassment of ships in the Persian Gulf. 

Iran warned that it could seize American vessels in response to the US deployment, Al-Monitor’s correspondent in Tehran reported.

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