The 1mn bl Suezmax Sonia 1, part of state-owned NITC’s fleet, has been outside the Spanish Mediterranean port of Algeciras since 14 December after loading in Iran in late November and subsequently passing through the Suez Canal. Fixture lists suggest the tanker is expected to berth at Algeciras on 18 December, before becoming open again for another cargo from 20 December.
There have been regular crude shipments from Iran to European ports this year — including deliveries to Spanish refiner Cepsa at Algeciras — but this might be the first cargo delivered on an NITC-owned tanker since the relaxation of EU and US sanctions against Iran.
NITC owns a considerable fleet, comprising 42 very large crude carriers VLCCs — each capable of holding 2mn bl — and around nine Suezmaxes, but even since the nuclear deal was reached and sanctions lifted those tankers have been barred from European ports because of concerns about liability and indemnity, age, status and suitability. So the tankers have primarily remained engaged as floating storage, or in moving crude to traditional Asia-Pacific buyers such as India and Japan.
But NITC adopted the Panama flag in July for the majority of its fleet, giving the tankers a widely-used and recognised flag state. And the state-owned firm secured P&I coverage in August through a group of European P&I clubs.
Many shipowners are said to be reluctant — or demand significant premiums — to load Iranian crude, because it limits their options for subsequent voyages. But NITC access to European ports might still deprive some shipowners of the opportunity to load Iranian cargoes, while the Iranian government has previously suggested its fleet will seek to compete in the wider market for spot cargoes.
However, Iranian crude is still not believed to have Sumed pipeline access, so none of NITC’s 42 VLCCs will be able to go fully laden via the Suez Canal to Europe.