The American Club has defended its sanctions compliance procedures after news agency Bloomberg reported it was involved with 21 vessels linked to the shipment of Iranian oil.

Nineteen vessels, originally named by United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), have been dropped from the club and three more are under investigation or are in the process of being dropped, according to Bloomberg.

The New York-based insurer told TradeWinds that it had dropped 40 vessels over the past year for compliance and other reasons.

It insisted its compliance procedures are “robust” but explained that, like all protection and indemnity clubs, its ability to detect tankers involved in illicit trades is not fail-safe.

“We can only do so much in the searches,” chief operating officer Dan Tadros told TradeWinds.

Referring to two vessels — including the 47,100-dwt MR product carrier Sincere 02 (built 2001) — which were linked to an Iran-backed financer for Yemen’s Houthi rebel group and insured by the American Club, Tadros said the club had taken the right action and followed the correct procedures.

UANI raised the alarm about Sincere 02 last July in a letter to Tadros that included a satellite picture said to show the tanker loading in south-west Iran.

“Using corroborating data from leading ship-tracking sources, we believe the Sincere, a Kiribati-flagged oil tanker, loaded gasoil at Bandar Mahshahr, Iran” in June 2023, it said.

A satellite photo supplied by UANI is said to show the Sincere 02 loading oil in Iran. Photo: UANI

Tadros said: “We had two vessels that we had started investigating because we didn’t like some patterns.”

The vessels had allegedly been engaged in spoofing activities to disguise their position.

“Then as our investigation went along, we got more and more information and it got to a point where — you can never get definitive information, but it was enough for us to say, ‘OK we’re releasing them’.

“Completely unbeknownst to us, the US was obviously investigating them. Two days later, they’re designated.

“Nowhere when they first joined us was there any indication of who was truly behind these vessels.”

As a mutual insurer, the American Club is a not-for-profit organisation. Being the smallest member of the International Group of P&I Clubs, it has attracted smaller and family-owned fleets, which are perhaps more likely to be associated with shipping’s parallel fleet.

Tadros said the club is not courting such business.

“A lot of the time we are made out to be the villains, like we’re making money or supporting Russia’s war against Ukraine. People need to understand we’re not governments and we do not have the resources governments have.

“We do what we can within our means and the resources available to us and the manpower we have,” Tadros said.

The American Club has six people working on compliance among a total workforce of 100.

Tadros highlighted the club’s prompt response to any suspicions regarding trading activities, initiating investigations without delay.

He has been closely collaborating with US authorities to develop sanction measures as part of an International Group working group

Tadros said the US authorities have accepted the American Club’s compliance procedures and the club itself is not under any form of probe.

He said the American Club is one of the few to ask for attestation from shipowners trading to Russia on a per-voyage basis before it became mandatory.