The full saga of the Bella, Bering, Pandi & Luna. 4 ships carrying Iranian gas seized by the U.S.
On Thursday the the United States Justice Department announced that 4 ships carrying Iranian gasoline destined for Venezuela had allowed the U.S. to seize the cargo for sanctions violations. This saga began back in January with a bill of lading that documented a gasoline shipment to be made by the Pandi, a Greek owned Liberia flagged vessel managed by International Marine Services. The Pandi would sail in late March from Sirus Oil Terminal in Iran to the UAE and listed the consignee of the loaded 302,502 barrels of gasoline as Mobin International Ltd. Then on April 17 the cargo was moved by ship to ship transfer to the Bella. On April 18th the Bella set sail for Venezuela with the gasoline on board and falsified paperwork that showed the origin of the cargo as the UAE.
On April 14th the Bering & Luna are entered into an agreements by their management companies which are also subsidiaries International Marine Services, to transport a combined 562,222 barrels of Iranian gasoline and both of them load the cargo by conducting ship to ship transfers off the coast of the UAE. Finally on May 11th the Pandi is entered into another agreement and subsequently loads another cargo this time 298,484 barrels of gasoline via ship to ship transfer rather than directly from the terminal in Iran.
According to DOJ charging documents an intercepted text message between Alex Saab and Mahmoud Madanipour, and IRGC affiliated individual, revealed the difficulties they were already experiencing by early May.
"The ship owner doesn’t want to go because of the American threat, but we want him to go, and we even agreed We will also buy the ship."
It is at this point that Alex Saab, the Venezuelan regimes main international corruption broker arranges a visit to Tehran along with officials from PDVSA the Venezuelan state oil company to negotiate a new deal. This new deal would be multi faceted, firstly 5 Iranian owned and flagged vessels deliver fuel to Venezuela, bypassing the need to contract a shipping company that can be sanctioned. The second part of the deal included provisions for the Iranian regime to provide technical assistance in getting the gasoline refining capacity inside Venezuela stabilized. In exchange Venezuela loaded some 9 tons of gold worth at least $500 million on to Iranian Mahan Air flights from Caracas to Tehran.
Bella & Bering both transited the Suez Canal and headed west into the Mediterranean. Pandi was following them and Luna looked like it was going to go the other way around Africa, however in between May 5th and 11th both Bella & Bering divert towards Greece and turn off their AIS. Luna & Pandi both turn around in late May and return to the Gulf of Oman, The Luna turns her AIS off May 25th but the Pandi continues to broadcast her location in the Gulf of Oman until July 1st then disappears.
In early May around the same time the Bella & Bering divert towards Greece the 5 Iranian tankers load up and depart for Caracas, Faxon, Fortune, Forest, Petunia & Clavel spend a month crossing the Atlantic and the whole world waits with anticipation to see if the U.S. Navy will seize the ships when they enter the Caribbean. The Venezuelan regime dispatches their Navy to escort the ships as they arrive and in the end there is no confrontation and the ships all reach their destination and unload successfully. For a few weeks it seems the gasoline shortage in Venezuela subsides, but with no other significant imports the reprieve was short lived.
During the time they are incognito Bella & Bering relocate to the waters off Cabo Verde, a small island chain nation off the west coast of North Africa. Coincidentally this is the same Island chain where Alex Saab is currently imprisoned awaiting extradition to the U.S.
The Pandi ceasing to broadcast her location on July 1st is not a coincidence, this is the same day the DOJ filled their complaint for Civil Forfeiture which ultimately resulted in a seizure order for the cargo from all four vessels issued by U.S. District Court Judge Jeb Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
On August 12th, a day before the U.S. DOJ announce that they have seized the gasoline cargo, Iranian forces including two ships and an "Sea King" helicopter, overtook and boarded a ship named the Wila while it was sailing in international waters.
The Wila is also managed by International Marine Services and the IRGC was likely attempting to leverage them to not complying with the U.S. demands. However the ship was released shortly after and it has since been revealed that the cargo's were already transferred off of Bella, Bering, Pandi & Luna to other ships in the custody of the U.S. Government thus there was no point in continuing to hold the Wila.
Written by Simon Bolivar