A “ghost ship” oil tanker carrying approximately $100 million of disputed Iraqi Kurdish crude oil has reappeared on satellite imagery near the US coast Monday, after disappearing for several days. The tanker seems not to have offloaded its oil.
According to the US Coast Guard and Reuters, the tanker, United Kalavrvta, is still 95 percent full and has not yet unloaded its cargo. The vessel was anchored Monday in the Galveston Offshore Lightering Area, close to its previously known position.
The Iraqi government has deemed this shipment of Kurdish crude oil illegal. Baghdad filed a lawsuit in the US in June, preventing any purchaser from unloading the Kurdish shipment.
When Iraq’s government initially filed the law suit, US District Judge Nancy K. Johnson ordered the seizure of the tanker’s $100 million payload, but only if the tanker entered the territorial waters of the US.
This isn’t the first time Kurdish oil tankers have switched off their electronic transponders to avoid detection – essentially making their movements impossible to track.
Approximately a week ago, a Kurdish tanker carrying crude disappeared from satellite tracking north of Egypt’s Sinai, only to reappear empty two days later near Israel.
As recently as June, Iraq’s central government made an attempt at illegalizing Kurdish oil sales but it was ultimately rejected by Iraq’s Supreme Court.
Kurds have argued that the sale of their crude is essential to their dreams of an independent Kurdistan – while the US State Department has publicly backed Baghdad’s stance.
Given the recent violence and uncertainty in Iraq, this makes for a hard decision for both the stranded tanker and its would-be US buyer.