Tanker mystery reignites

Questions about a mysterious sale-and-purchase deal resurfaced Tuesday after Euronav confirmed reports that it torched a time charter tied to a VLCC that changed hands late last year.

In its fourth-quarter earnings report, the Belgian operator put an end to months of speculation surrounding the departure of the 290,900-dwt TI Guardian (built 1993), which resulted in a capital gain of $2.8m upon redelivery in November 2012.

The vessel, which was one of two ships in Euronav’s stable of chartered-in tonnage, would have cost the company an estimated $13m in hire had it not been handed back well before the expiration of deal that wasn’t due to end until October of this year.

Talk that it was looking to offload the unit made headlines in October amid rumours that the former owner, a Danish KS (limited partnership), had lined up a buyer in a mysterious $22m transaction that would be sealed soon after.

At the time, conflicting reports about the counterparty behind a deal that was characterized by an unusually high level of secrecy fuelled talk that the ship may have been destined to trade or store crude oil from Iran.

Today, the vessel is technically managed by Libra Shipping of Greece under the name Nereyda and is no longer employed with the Tankers International pool, according to Equasis and other industry databases that identify the registered owner as a company called Hermis Shipping.

A shipbroker contacted by TradeWinds said the lack of information about the owner of a tanker whose last known coordinates suggest it was sailing in the Arabian Sea on a voyage from China to Dubai earlier this month is “curious” but cautioned against drawing unfair conclusions.

They were quick to point out that the tanker is classed by Lloyd’s Register and maintains protection-and-indemnity coverage with Gard of Norway, organisations that often go to great lengths to avoid dealings that could threaten compliance with sanctions aimed at Tehran and its controversial uranium enrichment programme.

As we reported,Euronav sold the TI Guardian to the Danish outfit in 2006 for $86.23m in a deal that included a seven-year time charter back at a reported $39,000 per day. Today, brokers say the chances of landing a spot deal would be “slim” given its age but note younger versions have seen say rates of around $27,000.

When Libra took the helm years later it was also in the process of firming up management contracts for the 280,000-dwt BW Ubud and Ural (both built 2000), which were renamed Ocean Nymph and Leycothea. Some believe a low profile Greek investor was behind the acquisition of all three.

On Tuesday, the last recorded coordinates of the Leycothea suggested it may be anchored off Malaysia while its sister is believed to be in Beilun, one of the Nereyda’s last publicly documented ports of call, according to vessel tracking data from Marine Traffic.

In late 2012, investigations led by Reuters and other mainstream media outlets argued that various areas off Malaysia had become increasingly popular destinations for VLCCs used as floating storage units in a supply chain connected to entities with alleged ties to Tehran’s crude trade.

Numerous attempts to reach Libra Shipping for comment were not immediately successful on Tuesday.

You can view the US Treasury's latest Iran advisory and a list of individuals and entities subject to US sanctions by exploring the links under the Related Media section to the right