The US Department of the Treasury has imposed sanctions on Akhilesh Kumar, the captain of Adrian Darya 1 (formerly Grace 1), the world’s most tracked oil tanker, at the centre of a confrontation between the United States and Iran and also black-listed the oil super tanker.

This could turn out to be a new diplomatic worry for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and external affairs minister S Jaishankar. “This is a diplomatic matter and we feel that the seafarers are being unfairly targeted in the case of Adrian Darya1 and Stena Impero, the British-flagged ship that was seized by Iran, which had Indian crew on board,” said a government official overseeing the matter. “It’s a wrong thing to do; it’s very unfair to put sanctions on the Captain; you know how the US is trying to exert pressure to serve their purpose,” he said.

“We are not so much worried about Stena Impero. Since India has very good relations with Iran, the crew on board Stena are well taken care of - they have consular access, they are talking to their families regularly. We are taking it up diplomatically because it is a very sensitive matter. Fortunately, we are having good relations with US also,” the government official said. 

Akhilesh Kumar was hired by Adrian Darya1 through Mumbai-based manning agent, Khadija Ship Management.

“The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took action today against Adrian Darya 1, an oil tanker transporting 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil ultimately benefitting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF). The Adrian Darya 1 is being identified as blocked property pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorism or acts of terrorism. As part of today’s action, the Adrian Darya 1’s captain, Akhilesh Kumar, is also designated pursuant to E.O. 13224,” it said in a statement.

On July 4, Britain’s naval forces seized the vessel, then known as Grace 1, and its cargo in the Strait of Gibraltar on suspicion of carrying crude to Syria in violation of the European Union’s sanctions against the Arab country. Tehran, however, rejected London’s claim about the tanker’s destination and slammed the seizure as “piracy.”

After 41 days, Gibraltar’s government released the super tanker a few days ago despite pressure from the US for the vessel’s continued detainment. Soon after the announcement, the US Department of Justice unveiled a warrant for the seizure of the ship, which was rejected by Gibraltar.

Since her release on August 16, Darya1 has been searching for a port to discharge the cargo without success as the maritime community does not want to fall foul of U S sanctions for assisting in such a task.

“Vessels like the Adrian Darya 1 enable the IRGC-QF to ship and transfer large volumes of oil, which they attempt to mask and sell illicitly to fund the regime’s malign activities and propagate terrorism,” Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, wrote in the statement. “Anyone providing support to the Adrian Darya 1 risks being sanctioned. The path to relief is to change course and not allow the IRGC-QF to profit from illicit oil sales,” he said.

The IRGC-QF’s highest-ranking officials have long overseen the export of Iranian oil, often masking its origin and sending it to the Syrian regime or IRGC-QF proxies across the region, he said.

Sanctions implications

As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these targets that are in the United States or in the possession or control of US persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.

OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by US persons or within the United States (including transactions transiting the United States) that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons. In addition, persons that engage in certain transactions with the individuals and entities designated today may themselves be exposed to sanctions or subject to an enforcement action.