China-linked VLCCs storing Iran crude; loading from Kharg Island
In spite of the US sanctions on Iran, some Iranian crude exports are coming into the international market through non-Iranian companies that are offering their VLCCs for transporting as well as storing Tehran’s oil, several oil shipping industry sources in Malaysia, Singapore, the UK and China said this week.
Coming soon after National Iranian Tanker Company-owned VLCC Dover transferring its condensate cargo into the CCPC Vanguard, a floating storage vessel in Malaysia’s Batu Pahat, another Iranian VLCC, the Hedy, has just completed the transfer of heavy grade crude into the Alter Ego I, owned by Kunlun Holding, in the same region of Malaysia, sources tracking the developments said.
Kunlun, which bought the Alter Ego I earlier this year, has changed the name of the VLCC to Tian Ying Zuo and received Iranian crude, the sources said.
According to one of the sources, another VLCC, the Ataka, whose name is now changed to Tian Ma Zuo, was scheduled to load heavy Iranian crude from Kharg Island.
An NITC official declined to comment. A Kunlun Holding executive also declined to comment.
“I am not sure and I have not heard about this,” a second Kunlun Holding official said when asked about Iranian crude being transferred into the Tian Ying Zuo, and the Tian Ma Zuo loading from Kharg Island.
The second Kunlun Holding official said the company did have 49% ownership of the CCPC Vanguard, but that stake had been sold two months ago. He declined to divulge the name of the buyer and claimed the company did not own VLCCs any more.
However, several owners, brokers and charterers told S&P Global Platts that it is possible for a company to control and still claim a lack of direct ownership of ships that are registered in the name of separate entities for corporate reasons, which can include efforts to reduce taxes.
A reply to an email sent to Kunlun Holding had not been received at the time of publishing this article.
Data from the UK-based global maritime consultancy, VesselsValue, confirmed that the names of both the Ataka and the Alter Ego I have been changed and they are now owned by Kunlun Holding.
Another shipping source separately confirmed that the Alter Ego I was purchased recently by a company that is part of the overall Kunlun Holding Group.
Data from cFlow, S&P Global Platts trade flow software, also showed the former Ataka at the Fujairah/Khor Fakken area when its signal was last received on November 19, while the former Alter Ego I was at Batu Pahat.
Iranian VLCCs occasionally do ship-to-ship transfers of crude and condensate in Malaysian ports such as Linggi and Batu Pahat, but a large volume of floating storage involves cargoes from other countries as well, said a shipping agent in Malaysia.
Since the US granted exemptions to importers from eight countries from the sanctions for six months under specific terms and conditions, there should not be any fuss over such trade with Iran, said a shipping consultant in Singapore.
However, sources tracking the Kunlun deal point out that the cargoes recently transferred in Malaysia left Iranian waters before the exemptions were announced.
Kunlun Holding Company Ltd (Kunlun Holding) markets itself as a one-stop solution provider for the oil and gas industry, and undertakes activities from the upstream to the downstream in the oil and gas value chain, an S&P Global Platts Ocean Intelligence, or OI report, said.
The Chinese company owns 50% of Kunlun Trading Co Ltd, which is involved in oil and LPG trading, 80% of Kunlun Shipping Co Ltd, and 100% of China Concord Petroleum Co Ltd, or CCPC, according to OI. Another entity, China Concord Investment Co Ltd, was wholly-owned by Kunlun Holding until May 2018, when its shares were transferred to the ownership of one of the group’s directors, Xu Bin, according to OI.
When a group company has several subsidiaries, ships may be owned by one or many among them and tracing actual control is complicated, sources said.
Chinese companies continue to import Iranian crude and shipments are mostly delivered in ships owned by local entities to avoid sanctions-related complications, a shipping broker in Beijing said.
Cargo transfer in ship-to-ship areas of Malaysia ensures that Iranian ships do not always have to directly call Chinese ports and local buyers there can lift parcels in sizes and at times of their liking, sources said.