The following is an English-language version of Levant Network research prepared for Akhbar Alaan.
A mysterious cargo vessel linked to Iran’s illicit shipment of petroleum appears to have been concealing its movements between Iran and Syria, an investigation by Akhbar Alaan has found.
On March 5, 2019, Sea Glory Circle (SGC) S.A., a Panamanian company, acquired the Pyramid bulk carrier, the start of the vessel’s enigmatic behavior spanning from the Persian Gulf to the east Mediterranean.
Using commercially-available maritime data, Akhbar Alaan was able to track the Pyramid’s voyages as well as the times it stopped broadcasting its location and disappeared. Vessels engaged in illicit activities often turn-off their location transponders to obscure their movements.
Corporate documents reviewed by Akhbar Alaan reveal that the Pyramid is part of a shadowy commercial network helping to move Iranian oil to Syria.
On April 18, the Pyramid’s transponder stopped broadcasting its location while entering the Gulf of Oman, before reappearing a week later while exiting the Strait of Hormuz. However, an inspection record for the Pyramid discloses that the vessel had docked April 23 at Shahid Rajaee, Iran’s busiest port.
The vessel then sailed to South Asia before entering the Mediterranean and docking in Tartous from June 10 to June 14. Akhbar Alaan could not determine what cargo the Pyramid delivered to Syria.
Bulk carriers with the specification of the Pyramid generally transport unpackaged goods such as metal ores, steel, grain and other similar items.
The Pyramid made three more trips toward Syria in the following months, all similar in nature. The vessel would stop broadcasting its position near the Strait of Hormuz for at least a week before reappearing and setting sail for the Mediterranean to dock in the Turkish port of Iskenderun.
In August and October, the Pyramid disappeared near the coast of Syria after leaving Iskenderun, before later reappearing further southward. In December, the vessel publicly docked at Tartous for a week.
In the early months of 2020, the Pyramid repeated its voyage from near the Strait of Hormuz to Iskenderun. This time however, the vessel sailed in circles off the Syrian and Lebanese coasts for two weeks and then moved to the Black Sea.
A trail of corporate documents and maritime records show the Pyramid’s link to the Masal, an oil tanker the US said had moved Iranian oil to Syria.
A week after the Pyramid was acquired by Sea Glory Circle (SGC) S.A. in March 2019, another Panamanian company, Ocean Glory Giant (OGG) S.A., bought the Masal. The two firms are directed by the same three men, who share an address in the Indian city of Gorakhpur.
On May 5, 2019, the Masal arrived off the Syrian port of Baniyas to deliver Iranian crude oil, according to TankerTrackers.com, a US company that closely follows Iranian oil shipments. As with the Pyramid, the Masal docked in Iskenderun before approaching the Syrian coast.
The petroleum analytics firm added that the vessel appears to “directly under the command of Iran, and not any other parties.”
The US has ramped up its sanctions against Iran’s oil exports in the past year, saying that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps – Qods Force was overseeing the complex web of front companies that has “moved oil worth hundreds of millions of dollars or more” for the benefit of the Syrian government.