Tuesday, April 16, 2024
 
 

U.S. zeroes in on Houthi revenue sources

Sanctioned companies sought to conceal Iranian-origin cargoes
Red Sea container shipping

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The U.S. Government made several announcements this month regarding new sanctions on Houthi revenue sources, building on steps taken in coordination with the U.K. against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), longtime Houthi supporters, in late February.  

These steps follow the U.S. Department of State’s January 17 designation of Ansarallah (commonly known as the Houthis) as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist as a consequence of ongoing attacks on international maritime commerce in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

On March 6, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took additional action to target shipments of Iranian commodities undertaken by the network of Iran-based and IRGC-QF-supported Houthi financial facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal, who was originally sanctioned by OFAC back in 2021 for his support of the IRGC-QF.

The March 6 action specifically targeted two Hong Kong- and Marshall Islands-based ship owners and two vessels for their role in shipping commodities on behalf of al-Jamal, and followed a February 27 action targeting a related vessel, the ARTURA. The revenue generated through al-Jamal’s network has continued to enable Houthi militant efforts to disrupt international maritime commerce in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

“The IRGC-QF and the Houthis continue to rely on the illicit sale of commodities to finance their attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson. He further underlined, “the United States remains resolved to hold accountable those who enable these destabilizing activities.”

In the crosshairs – Al Jamal’s network

Palau-flagged RENEEZ, which is owned and managed by Marshall Islands-based Reneez Shipping Limited, has transported tens of thousands of metric tons of Iranian commodities for the network of Houthi financier Sa’id al-Jamal. OFAC believes that Al-Jamal’s network often uses falsified cargo documents to mask the Iran-origin cargo onboard and to obfuscate its ties to Iran and al-Jamal’s network.

Reneez Shipping Limited is being designated pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, as amended, for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Sa’id al-Jamal. The RENEEZ is being identified as blocked property in which Reneez Shipping Limited has an interest.

The Panama-flagged ARTURA was sanctioned as part of the February 27, 2024, action for transporting Iranian commodities on behalf of al-Jamal. According to OFAC, ARTURA falsified its Automatic Identification System (AIS) to indicate it was traveling north from Singapore while the vessel was in the process of conducting a ship-to-ship (STS) transfer with the Panama-flagged ETERNAL FORTUNE. ETERNAL FORTUNE, which is owned by Hong Kong-based Hongkong Unitop Group Ltd, also emitted a false AIS signal while receiving the STS transfer from the ARTURA.

Hongkong Unitop Group Ltd is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224, as amended, for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Sa’id al-Jamal. The ETERNAL FORTUNE is being identified as blocked property in which Hongkong Unitop Group Ltd has an interest.

Al-Jamal’s shipping network further targeted

On March 15, OFAC took action against Marshall Islands-registered shipping company Vishnu Inc., whose vessel, the LADY SOFIA, is involved in illicit shipments to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in support of Iran’s IRGC-QF and Houthi facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal, who was previously sanctioned under U.S. counterterrorism authorities.

The Vishnu Inc. owned and managed LADY SOFIA (IMO: 9212759) engaged in a ship-to-ship transfer with the recently sanctioned vessel MEHLE (IMO: 9191711) on January 31, 2024, which deceptively obscured its transfer of commodities to the LADY SOFIA through “spoofing”—an automatic identification system (AIS) manipulation that masks the vessel’s true location. Disguised as a fictitious vessel called the “AMOR,” and incorrectly broadcasting its location as the South China Sea, the MEHLE offloaded its illicit cargo to the LADY SOFIA near Singapore. The LADY SOFIA is currently traveling to the PRC, carrying the Iranian commodities it received from the MEHLE on behalf of Sa’id al-Jamal.

The MEHLE was identified on January 12, 2024, as property in which Cielo Maritime Ltd has an interest.  Cielo Maritime Ltd was concurrently designated pursuant to E.O. 13224, as amended, for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Sa’id al-Jamal.

Vishnu Inc. is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224, as amended, for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Sa’id al-Jamal.  The LADY SOFIA is being identified as property in which Vishnu Inc. has an interest.

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