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Iran Is Attempting to Avoid Sanctions With 'Ghost Ships'

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Ever since September, Iran’s massive oil tankers have been blinking off tracking screens, and by October, all of Iran’s supertankers have gone dark, almost certainly the result of turning off their satellite transponders so they can attempt to continue selling oil clandestinely despite U.S. sanctions. This appears to be the first time every one of a nation’s tankers have gone dark, according to organizations that track this sort of thing.

Eleven supertankers have disappeared from tracking systems, though they can still be tracked, far more laboriously, by visually checking imagery taken from satellites.


Despite American sanctions, there’s still many countries willing to buy lots of Iranian oil from these sort-of-cloaked ships, including India and China. The European Union is even, according to the news agency AFP, creating something called a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to help countries buy oil from Iran that would work around the U.S. sanctions.

Confusingly and disappointingly, the SPV is not a literal vehicle, but rather is a sort of finanical institution that operates outside the existing international banking system.


While countries with close ties to the U.S. have stopped buying oil from Iran, it looks like there will be many countries who will continue to do so using these more cloak-and-dagger methods.

In the meantime, I suppose there’s new job opportunities for people really good at identifying Iranian tankers from grainy satellite photos.