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HOUSTON, Sept 3 An oil tanker off the coast of
Texas loaded with $100 million of disputed Iraqi Kurdish crude
has pulled its anchor from the water and set sail for the first
time since entering the Gulf of Mexico in July, satellite
tracking showed on Wednesday.
As a tussle over the cargo between Baghdad and the Kurds
enters its third month, the United Kalavrvta tanker changed its
status to "underway using engine" from "at anchor" and was
heading east at a slow pace of 1.2 knots, data used by the U.S.
Coast Guard and Reuters showed.
The vessel, which is 95 percent full and carrying 1 million
barrels of crude oil, was still in the Galveston Offshore
Lightering Area, a spot 60 miles offshore where big ships too
large to enter ports near Houston transfer their cargo to
smaller ships for delivery on U.S. soil.
The Coast Guard said it had no new information on the plans
of the vessel, which still lists Galveston as its destination.
The sudden movement by the vessel comes after it apparently
turned off its transponder and went dark on satellite systems
for days before reappearing on Monday.
Switching off transponders, which makes it tough to track a
vessel's movements, is a tactic that has been used by other
tankers carrying disputed crude from Iran or Iraqi Kurdistan.
In August, the partially full Kamari tanker carrying Kurdish
crude disappeared from satellite tracking north of Egypt's
Sinai. It reappeared empty two days later near Israel.
And in late July, the tanker United Emblem offloaded part of
its cargo of Kurdish crude onto another ship in the South China
Baghdad, which says it has the sole right to export the
crude under the Iraqi constitution, has filed a lawsuit in a
U.S. federal court to reclaim control of the United Kalavrvta
cargo and block the Kurdistan Regional Government from
delivering it to the United States.
The filing was part of a broader effort by Baghdad to stop
Kurdistan from exporting crude, which the Kurds say is crucial
to their own dreams of independence.
The U.S. court last week threw out an order issued to seize
the cargo, saying it lacked jurisdiction because the tanker was
so far offshore.
But the judge invited Iraq to re-plead its case over the
rightful ownership of the cargo. Baghdad could file claims
against anyone taking delivery of the oil. The cargo's would-be
buyer has already balked at accepting delivery.
(Reporting by Anna Sussman Josephine Mason in New York and
Terry Wade in Houston; Editing by David Gregorio and Diane