As Iran Ramps Crude Oil Sales, Landmark Cargo Proves Tough

  • Three months after leaving Iran, tanker still hasn't unloaded
  • Vessel was supposed to lift breakthrough post-sanctions cargo

As the speed and scale of Iran’s return to the global crude market shows signs of surprising oil analysts, one shipment from the Persian Gulf country that was meant to be a milestone cargo isn’t proving straightforward to shift.

Iran shipped more than 2 million barrels a day in early April, according to ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg and the country’s own figures. Added to the amount the nation refines itself, that implies production is already close to pre-sanctions levels. But it hasn’t all proved plain sailing: a tanker that was supposed to be hauling one of the first post-sanctions cargoes has gotten stuck near Romania and it’s not clear exactly why.

The Distya Akula, a 21-year-old vessel, still hasn’t unloaded its 1 million-barrel cargo and has been bobbing for weeks off the eastern European country’s coast, tracking data show. Shortly after the vessel left Iran at the start of February, its owner initially celebrated what could have been the very first cargo delivered to Europe since sanctions were lifted against Iran.

The vessel’s owner at first said Litasco SA, a unit of Lukoil, had booked it. The shipping company also initially said the carrier would go to Constanta on Romania’s Black Sea coast, where Lukoil has a refinery. While that’s where the vessel has indeed ended up, the owner corrected its initial statement and said Litasco wasn’t the buyer and Constanta wasn’t the destination.

From Iran to Suez
From Iran to Suez
Bloomberg

Throughout its odyssey, Distya Akula has spent time waiting. It was near the southern entrance of Egypt’s Suez Canal for more than 30 days. Now it’s been near Romania for more than three weeks.

The vessel was instructed to go to Constanta but so far hasn’t been directed to unload there, Deepak Arora, assistant vice president at Elektrans Shipping, the owner, said by phone Friday. He doesn’t know the reason for the waiting because the carrier is on a long-term charter to another company, he said.

A normal shipment to Constanta from Kharg Island, Iran’s biggest export terminal, should take about 17 days. This one has already lasted more than 80. Shipping officials in both Romania and Egypt have so far been unable to provide details of the owner of the ship’s consignment. Traders specialized in Mediterranean oil cargoes have also been unable to identify the buyer of this one.

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