(Adds comment from Greek shipping company, background)
By Ahmed Rasheed and Jonathan Saul
BAGHDAD/LONDON, Sept 4 Iraq said it filed a
lawsuit against Greek shipping company Marine Management
Services (MMS) for its role in the export of crude from the
Kurdistan region, which Baghdad says is illegal.
The case is the latest move by Baghdad to deter customers
and thwart independent exports of crude from the autonomous
Kurdistan region. The federal government claims sole authority
to manage sales of all the oil in Iraq.
The Iraqi oil ministry said on Thursday that MMS operated
five vessels that had transported oil on behalf of the Kurdistan
Regional Government (KRG) from a Turkish port.
"MMS has actively facilitated the KRG's illegal export
scheme, repeatedly ignoring warnings that the crude oil it was
carrying does not belong to the KRG," it said in a statement,
which did not specify when and where the case was filed.
"MMS is liable for damages of at least $318 million, and
possibly significantly more, as a result of its willing and
active participation in the KRG's illegal crude oil export
Athens-based ship manager MMS said it was not aware of any
suit filed by the Iraqi government and maintained it was simply
carrying out its business of transporting goods.
"We are not a party to this dispute, and any lawsuit filed
against us by the Iraqi government is misdirected and
ill-advised and will be robustly defended for lacking any basis
and foundation," MMS said in a separate statement on Thursday.
"The goods in this case are crude oil, which the KRG claims
is rightfully theirs."
MMS said if there was a dispute over the ownership of the
cargoes, it had to be resolved between the government in Baghdad
and the KRG "either through a political or failing that a
The Kurds began exporting oil in May via an independent
pipeline, which links up with an Iraqi pipeline at the Turkish
border to terminate at the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. More
than 10 million barrels of oil have been shipped from the port
since then, Turkey's energy minister said on Thursday.
Kurdish officials could not immediately be reached for
The Iraqi oil ministry said MMS had declared false
destinations for its tankers, turned off its ships' tracking
systems to avoid detection and undertaken ship-to-ship transfers
of oil on the high seas at night, a process it described as
One of MMS's tankers, the United Kalavrvta, has been
anchored off the coast of Texas since July laden with $100
million worth of crude. Baghdad has threatened to sue anyone who
buys the oil and has asked a U.S. court to seize the vessel's
contents. A Texas court has said it lacks jurisdiction because
the tanker is offshore.
Disputes over contested oil shipments are not uncommon.
Two years ago, two tankers holding oil from South Sudan were
held up for months in Asia due to a dispute over oil revenues
between Sudan and its landlocked neighbour South Sudan.
Sudan had seized the oil and loaded the consignments onto
the tankers for what it called unpaid transit fees. The spat was
resolved after both sides agreed that Sudan would pay back
proceeds from the two oil shipments as well as reaching an
accord over a metering system over oil exports.
(Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Michael Urquhart and Jane