Greece impounds Russian tanker as part of EU sanctions against Russia

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ATHENS, April 19 (Reuters) - Greece has impounded a Russian oil tanker off the island of Evia, the Greek coastguard said on Tuesday, as part of European Union sanctions imposed on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this month, the EU banned Russian-flagged vessels from the 27-nation bloc's ports, with some exemptions, as it adopted new sweeping sanctions against Russia for what the Kremlin describes as a "special military operation".

The 115,500-deadweight tonnage Russian-flagged Pegas, with 19 Russian crew members on board, was seized near Karystos on the southern coast of Evia, which lies just off the Greek mainland near Athens.

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The Russian embassy in Athens, the Greek capital, said on Twitter it was looking into the case and was in contact with Greek authorities.

"It has been seized as part of EU sanctions," a Greek shipping ministry official said.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said the United States welcomed Greece’s efforts to implement the sanctions "initiated in response to Russia’s brutal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine."

"We are aware of reports that the tanker is loaded with Iranian crude oil," the spokesperson added, taking no position on the veracity of such reports.

A Greek coastguard official said the ship's oil cargo had not been confiscated. It was not clear who the charterer of the cargo was, but the vessel was managed by Russia-based Transmorflot.

Transmorflot was not immediately available for comment.

The Pegas, which was renamed Lana in March, had earlier reported an engine problem. It was headed to the southern Peloponnese peninsula to offload its cargo onto another tanker but rough seas forced it to moor just off Karystos where it was seized, Athens News Agency reported.

On Tuesday afternoon the ship was still moored at Karystos bay, Reuters witnesses said.

U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which monitors Iran-related tanker traffic through ship and satellite tracking, said the Pegas loaded around 700,000 barrels of crude oil from Iran's Sirri Island on Aug. 19, 2021.

It subsequently tried to unload the cargo at a Turkish port before heading to Greece, UANI said its analysis showed.

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Reporting by Renee Maltezou, Jonathan Saul and Dmitry Zhdannikov; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Saint Paul, Minn.; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Alexander Smith and Lincoln Feast.

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