Ship owners sailing four Iranian fuel cargoes to US for seizure

A handout image released by the US Central Command on August 13, 2020 reportedly shows Iranian forces boarding a tanker in international waters in the Gulf of Oman, just 32 kilometers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, using a helicopter and two ships to take over the vessel for several hours. (AFP)
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Updated 14 August 2020

Ship owners sailing four Iranian fuel cargoes to US for seizure

  • Iran had planned to transport the gasoline to Venezuela, a supply line that both Tehran and Caracas have flaunted in defiance of US sanctions

LONDON/MEXICO CITY: Four tankers carrying Iranian fuel cargoes covered by a US warrant for seizure are sailing to the United States after talks between US authorities and the ship owners, a US government source and a shipping source said on Thursday.
Iran had planned to transport the gasoline to Venezuela, a supply line that both Tehran and Caracas have flaunted in defiance of US sanctions. Washington has imposed sanctions on both countries to choke oil exports and deprive them of their main source of revenue.
Iranian action against another ship on Wednesday in the Gulf was in retaliation against the Greek owner of some of the vessels, the government source and two shipping sources said.
US prosecutors filed a lawsuit in July to seize the gasoline aboard the four tankers, and a judge subsequently issued a warrant for seizure. The fuel cannot be seized until the tankers enter US territorial waters.
The owners of the four vessels agreed to have them sail to the United States after talks with the US government, the sources said. The warrant only covers the cargoes aboard the Liberia-flagged Bella, Bering, Pandi and Luna, not the vessels.
The US Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security and State Department declined to comment on Thursday. Neither Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA nor Venezuela’s oil or information ministries responded to requests for comment.
The United States has previously threatened to impose sanctions on any shipowners and vessels involved in oil trade with Venezuela and Iran.
The four tankers are owned and managed by companies controlled by Greece-based firms Vienna LTD and Palermo SA. The fifth vessel, the Wila, which was boarded by Iranian forces near the Strait of Hormuz on Wednesday, is owned by Bandit Shipping and controlled by Greece-based IMS SA.
Vienna, Palermo and IMS did not immediately reply to requests for comment sent outside normal office hours.
News of the US seizure of the Iranian cargoes was first reported on Thursday by the Wall Street Journal.
Tensions between Iran and the United States increased last year following a series of incidents involving shipping in and near the Middle East Gulf.
In July 2019, Iran briefly seized a British-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf after Britain seized the Iranian tanker Grace 1, accused of violating sanctions on Syria.
The United States had issued a warrant for the vessel and Brian Hook, then the State Department’s top Iran official, sent emails to its captain saying the Trump administration was offering him several million dollars to steer the tanker to a country that would impound it on behalf of Washington. The attempt failed, and the oil was eventually sold to the Assad government in Syria.


Indian military admits wrongdoing in three Kashmir killings

Updated 20 min 10 sec ago

Indian military admits wrongdoing in three Kashmir killings

  • Indian soldiers had previously claimed they had killed ‘unidentified Pakistani terrorists’ in Shopian
  • India has rejected every request since 1989 to prosecute Indian soldiers in civilian courts in Kashmir for alleged rights abuses

SRINAGAR: In a rare admission of wrongdoing, the Indian military on Friday said its soldiers in Kashmir exceeded their legal powers in the killings of three local men it had described as Pakistani terrorists.
Col. Rajesh Kalia, an Indian army spokesman, said police are investigating whether the men were actually involved in militancy. He said the victims have now been identified as residents of Rajouri district whose families had filed a complaint accusing soldiers of killing them in a staged gunbattle.
On July 18, the Indian army said its soldiers killed three “unidentified Pakistani terrorists” in the southern Shopian area. About a month later, three Kashmiri families in Rajouri identified the victims as their missing relatives using photographs of the bodies that circulated on social media, and filed a complaint with police.
Police ordered an investigation, and the results have not yet been released.
“Their DNA report is awaited. Their involvement with terrorism or related activities is under investigation by the police,” Kalia said in a statement, without explaining how the military had identified the three men.
Kalia said an army investigation showed the soldiers had exceeded the powers granted to them under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
The act gives the Indian military in Kashmir sweeping powers to search, seize and even shoot suspects on sight without fear of prosecution. Under the act, local authorities need federal approval to prosecute erring army or paramilitary soldiers in civilian courts. The special powers were given to the military in 1990, a year after an armed rebellion erupted in Kashmir seeking the Himalayan region’s independence or merger with neighboring Pakistan, which also controls part of Kashmir.
“Consequently, the competent disciplinary authority has directed to initiate disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act against those found prima facie answerable,” Kalia said. “Indian Army is committed to ethical conduct of operations.”
Police, which usually participate in counterinsurgency operations, said the July 18 encounter was a solo operation by the army. The police later buried the bodies in a remote cemetery.
The families of the young men — cousins aged 18, 21 and 25 — said they went to Shopian to work as laborers and were last heard from on July 17.
India has long relied on military force to retain control over the portion of Kashmir it administers and has fought two wars over the territory with Pakistan, which also claims the mountain region as its own.
The rebel uprising against Indian control and subsequent Indian crackdown have killed tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces.
Hundreds of thousands of Indian troops are stationed in the region and maintain checkpoints throughout Indian-controlled territory.
The results of the police probe are likely to spark an outcry among Kashmiri activists who for years have accused Indian troops of abusing their powers and repeatedly targeting civilians.
In 2000, the Indian army killed five men it alleged were militants responsible for the massacre of 35 Sikhs in Kashmir. An investigation later found the five were local villagers killed in a faked firefight.
In 2010, a massive uprising erupted in Kashmir after a police investigation found Indian soldiers had killed three civilians in a staged gunbattle and then said the victims were militants in order to claim a reward for killing them. The army responded by suspending two officers.
India has rejected every request since 1989 to prosecute Indian soldiers in civilian courts in Kashmir for alleged rights abuses including murder and rape, according to official documents.