(Updates with Coast Guard saying ship meets standards, State
Department official comment)
By Erwin Seba and Terry Wade
HOUSTON, July 27 A tanker carrying crude oil
from Iraqi Kurdistan was cleared by the U.S. Coast Guard to
unload its cargo at sea off Texas on Sunday as a State
Department official signaled Washington would not intervene to
block delivery of the controversial crude.
Coast Guard officials went aboard the tanker United
Kalavrvta on Sunday and verified the ship and crew's ability to
safely offload the oil, a Coast Guard spokesman said.
The ship set sail from the Turkish port of Ceyhan in June
with a load of crude oil supplied by a new pipeline from the
Trading sources in Texas, New York, London and Geneva have
been unable to identify the buyer of the United Kalavrvta's
cargo. The oil could go to any one of the many refineries
located along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The ship carries approximately 1 million barrels of crude,
which would fetch more than $100 million at international
Sale of Kurdish crude oil to a U.S. refinery would infuriate
Baghdad, which sees such deals as smuggling, raising questions
about Washington's commitment to preventing oil sales from the
The U.S. government has expressed fears that independent oil
sales from Kurdistan could contribute to the breakup of Iraq as
the government in Baghdad struggles to contain the
ultra-hardline Islamic State, a group of Sunni Islamist
insurgents who have captured vast areas of the country.
But it also has grown frustrated with Iraqi Prime Minister
Nuri al-Maliki's handling of the crisis.
The tanker anchored on Saturday night in an area off the port
of Galeveston, Texas, where ships too large to transit the
Houston Ship Channel offload oil to smaller tankers for delivery
to the U.S. mainland.
Throughout Saturday and Sunday, the Coast Guard was in
communication with the U.S. National Security Council, and
departments of State and Homeland Security, said Petty Officer
To deliver the crude the tanker only had to show it could do
so in compliance with Coast Guard regulations, Kendrick said.
"We didn't have any extra stuff to impose on them," he said.
Crude offloading could begin as soon as the ship arranges a
contract with a company that performs lightering, as the process
is called, he said. Lightering, depending the size of the cargo,
can take several hours and even days.
Attempts to contact the ship's owner and the vessel itself
A State Department official, speaking on condition of
anonymity on Sunday because of the sensitivity of the issue,
said officials were well aware the ship's location and cargo.
"This is a private commercial matter," the official said.
"Our policy has not changed. Iraq's energy resources belong to
all of the Iraqi people. As in many cases involving legal
disputes, the United States informs the parties of the dispute
and recommends they make their own decision with advice of
Washington has pressured companies and governments not to
buy crude from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), but it has
stopped short of banning purchases by U.S. firms.
The KRG has renewed its push for an independent state amid
the latest violence roiling Iraq. Its relationship with Baghdad
has deteriorated over what it sees as Maliki's role in stoking
the crisis and the long-running dispute over oil sales.
Baghdad has threatened to sue anyone that buys Kurdish oil.
(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington, David
Sheppard in London, editing by David Evans and Cynthia Osterman)