US President Donald Trump is tracking the movements of tankers linked to a Chinese oil company. In recent months, the Bank of Kunlun, a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, has employed a fleet of tankers in what appears to be a bid to move oil from Iran to China. If so, it is in defiance of US Sanctions against Tehran.
The Chinese tankers were discovered by Tankertrackers, a group monitoring oil shipments.
Samir Madani of TankerTrackers told Financial Times: “The data and imagery clearly suggests that these tankers, all of which have been linked to the Bank of Kunlun, are involved in transporting Iranian oil.
“These tankers are acting as a bridge between Iran and China.”
According to information provided to Financial Times from TankerTrackers, at least thee Kunlun-tankers have been spotted interacting with Iranian vessels since May.
Two US officials said companies should be aware that sanctions against Iran would be strictly enforced.
One said: “Any entity considering evading our restrictions, particularly related to Iranian petrochemicals, should take this message seriously.
“We recently sanctioned Zhuhai Zhenrong …for knowingly engaging in a significant transaction for the purchase or acquisition of crude oil from Iran. This action underscores our commitment to enforcement.”
However, the Bank of Kunlun said it was “not involved in the crude oil import business” and denied having “violated any laws or regulations”.
But a former senior US intelligence official hit back at the Bank of Kunlun, China’s biggest state-run oil company , saying: “Bank of Kunlun has always been the sacrificial lamb for CNPC and, more broadly, for the Chinese government.
“It is a bank that the Chinese government recognises as expendable in some sense.”
The news of Chinese involvement with Iran comes as the US is in the middle of negotiating trade deals with Beijing.
Last week Mr Trump said the US would impose more tariffs on Chinese goods after failure to progress in talks.
A US official told Financial Times: “We have brought this regime’s oil exports to all-time lows.
“Our energy sector sanctions combined with strong enforcement could deprive the regime of as much as $50bn (£41bn) annually.”
The US gave countries, including China, until May 2019 to cut imports of Iranian oil to zero of face sanctions last years.
But according to Chinese data, Beijing imported 7.9m barrels in May and 6.3m barrels in June.