Kurdish oil cargo seized

A US judge has ordered marshals to seize a disputed crude cargo, alleged to have been exported by Iraqi Kurdistan, onboard a Greek-controlled tanker off Galveston.

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The order by Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson arresting the cargo on the 159,000-dwt United Kalavrvta (built 2005) comes on the request of the Iraq's Ministry of Oil (MoO), which accuses the Kurdistan Regional Government of unlawfully appropriating oil and exporting it through Turkey even though the commodity is controlled by the central government in Baghdad.

"Pursuant to the laws of the Republic of Iraq, [the] plaintiff MoO must approve the storage, transport, export or sale of any oil products belonging to the people of the Republic of Iraq, including the crude oil contained in the subject cargo," the ministry said in papers filed in the federal court in Galveston.

The 143,000 tonne cargo is worth more than $100m, the ministry said through Vinson & Elkins lawyer Phillip Dye.

Vessel tracking data shows that the ship, which is controlled by Greece's Marine Management Services, is anchored off Galveston, where lightering tankers were set to unload the cargo.

Legal records show the buyer of the Kurdish crude was Talmay Trading, a British Virgin Islands-based commodity player.

Lighterer sues

Lightering tanker owner AET has filed a lawsuit of its own in the situation, seeking a Houston federal judge's help in sorting out the matter.

Through Eastham, Watson, Dale & Forney lawyer William Durham, the Malaysian company says it was hired by Talmay to lighter the United Kalavrvta, but then a lawyer for the Iraqi government contacted the company over the allegedly "stolen" cargo.

"AET has a long history of supporting and following all rules, regulations and laws and we will not participate in any illegal activity," a company spokesman told TradeWinds.

AET has not commenced lightering the tanker.