Iran’s crude oil supertankers are likely exporting more oil than planned and agreed upon under the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA). The U.S. Department of State stated in its overview of the JPOA that while the P5+1 negotiate with Iran over its illicit nuclear program, the goal was to maintain oil exports at “current average levels during the JPOA period.” The average for 2013 Iranian tanker movements was 190.2 million barrels capacity for a six month period, or 31.7 million barrels per month. Iran has apparently exceeded this six month total already.
In the period from January 20 to February 20, 2014, sailings totaled 47.249 million barrels capacity, rising to 60.142 million barrels in the next month before falling slightly to 41.761 million barrels the month after. But in the period April 20 to May 20, 2014, sailings rose again to 49.772 million barrels capacity. Thus, only four months into the six month JPOA period, sailings so far have totaled 198.9 million barrels capacity at an average of 49.725 million barrels per month – already a greater amount than the average of a full six month period in 2013.
Admittedly, while the capacity of sailings of crude oil tankers is not definitive, it has in the past proven reliably indicative of crude oil export levels. One possible explanation is that Iranian tankers may be carrying cargoes in place of foreign owned vessels. The foreign vessels had been Iran's only choice for exporting oil because they were not subject to sanctions. However, assuming that Iran is now doing the shipping on its own, it is important to note that it no longer needs to pay the cost of foreign services. This is effectively sanctions relief that has not been accounted for (and could be viewed as return on investment that has been tied up in Iran's shipping fleet).
In all likelihood, oil exports are indeed on the rise. Iran’s Oil Minister, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, recently boasted that Iran’s exports have recently soared to “1.5 million barrels per day,” a figure some 50 percent greater than that proposed under the JPOA.
A senior State Department official stated last month during a background brief that the U.S. would “take appropriate action” should the agreement be breached. It is unclear whether the current figures warrant such action, but it is incumbent upon the White House to explain this apparent jump in exports, particularly as the P5+1 continues to push for a final negotiated deal.
Iran Crude Oil Tanker Sailings: Capacity (Millions of tons)
Tim Wilson is a visiting fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies