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Iranian-Flagged Tanker Reverses Course Again, Destination Unclear

An Iranian-flagged oil tanker that has been pursued by the United States in the Mediterranean Sea for weeks has changed course once again, with questions remaining as to its true destination.

In its third change in 10 days, the crew of the Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as Grace 1, set a new destination in the ship's Automatic Identification System (AIS) as Iskenderun, Turkey, early on August 30.

Experts note the crew of a vessel can input any destination in the AIS system and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Norway during a trip to Oslo that the vessel is actually headed toward Lebanese waters.

"It doesn't mean that it is going to reach a Lebanese port. But for sure...it is not coming to Turkish ports either," Cavusoglu said, clarifying earlier comments that appeared to indicate the ship would stop in Lebanon.

The ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com showed the Adrian Darya's position as northwest of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea, retracing the route it took the previous day after it turned around.

The ship at that time had listed the Turkish port of Mersin as its destination.

Iskenderun is about 200 kilometers by sea from a refinery in Baniyas, Syria, where the ship was reported to be heading before being seized off Gibraltar in early July.

Meanwhile, Lebanon's Energy Minister Nada Boustani said in a statement that her country had not received a docking request from the tanker, nor has the Adrian Darya 1 requested entrance to Lebanon.

"The Energy Ministry does not buy crude oil from any country and Lebanon does not own a crude oil refinery," she noted in the statement.

The United States has issued a warrant to seize the tanker on the grounds that it had links to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which it designates as a terrorist organization.

The Adrian Darya, which is carrying Iranian crude worth some $130 million, was first detained off Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion it was shipping oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.

It was allowed to leave the British territory on August 19 after giving assurances that it would not head to Syria.

Tensions between Iran and the United States have risen since Washington withdrew from an international nuclear deal in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions on the country.

Iran's economy has suffered under the sanctions, which target its oil and financial sectors.

In July, Tehran announced it was reducing some of its commitments under the nuclear deal.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.