By Irina Slav
The United States will remove the sanctions it imposed on Chinese tanker operator Cosco for violating the Iran oil sanctions, Reuters reports, citing sources in the know.
One of the sources, from a large Chinese oil company, said Cosco had already been taken off the sanction list and only an official confirmation of the removal was pending. The other source said Washington had given indication it was about to lift the sanctions.
Washington imposed sanctions on several Chinese tanker operators last September, alleging that they continued to transport Iranian oil in violation of the sanctions that the U.S. Department of Treasury imposed on Tehran earlier that year.
“We are imposing sanctions on certain Chinese firms for knowingly engaging in a significant transaction for the transport of oil from Iran, including knowledge of sanctionable conduct, contrary to U.S. sanctions,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in September 2019, adding in a tweet that “We will take action on any sanctionable Iranian oil transaction.”
As a result of the sanctions on the Chinese tanker operators, 25 Very large Crude Carriers operated by a regional unit of Cosco in Dalian went out of service, and shipping rates for oil cargoes around the world shot up. This ended up disrupting shipping markets because it remained unclear for a while whether the sanctions only concerned Cosco’s Dalian tanker unit, which operates some 40 vessels, according to Reuters, or the whole shipping company with a fleet of more than 1,000 vessels.
Now, if the removal of the sanctions on Cosco is confirmed, this will lead to a plunge in freight rates, which makes it bad news for shipper but good news for the oil industry.
In the meantime, China has continued to import Iranian oil, customs data has shown. The latest from the Chinese customs authority revealed the country imported close to 300,000 bpd of Iranian oil last year. Imports could actually be even higher, with the rest coming from ship-to-ship transfers at sea.