On Monday, March 25, 2019, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) updated the advisory document it published in November 2018 on the risks for parties involved in petroleum shipments to Syria. The update adds to the list of deceptive shipping practices used to obfuscate the destination of petroleum bound for Syria and the measures that members of the petroleum shipping community can take to mitigate these risks. This guidance follows the United States' continuing efforts to isolate the Assad regime and its supporters from the global financial and trade system and cut supplies of Iranian oil into Syria.
On the heels of its recent North Korean sanctions update, OFAC's Syria update adds to the list of tactics used to obfuscate the destination and recipient of oil shipments ultimately destined for Syria. It emphasizes that parties in the petroleum shipping community should be mindful of the following practices:
- Falsifying cargo and vessel documents, including bills of lading, certificates of origin, invoices, packing lists, proof of insurance and lists of last ports of call.
- Engaging in ship-to-ship (STS) transfers to conceal the origin or destination of cargo.
- Disabling the automatic identification system (AIS) to mask the destination of cargo destined for the government of Syria – vessels carrying petroleum to Syria have been known to intentionally disable their AIS transponders to mask their movements, which is a breach of international regulations.
- Changing vessel names to make identification more difficult and obfuscate prior illicit activity.