U.S. faces dilemma over Kurdish oil tanker off coast of Galveston

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - A massive oil tanker parked roughly 60 miles off the coast of Galveston has the potential to ignite an international incident, if the oil on board is offloaded in the U.S., a Rice University professor said Monday.

"If the oil doesn't come in, then that's something like a 3 on the scale. If the oil does come in, that's more like a 7," Richard Stoll, a political science professor at Rice University said.

The issue is that the approximately $100 million worth of crude oil sitting on board the United Kalavrvta is Kurdish.

The U.S. has maintained a policy to deal only directly with the Iraq's central government, closing a deal with a Kurds, could be construed as undermining an ally, even an unreliable ally.

"I guess I could imagine a situation where someone says 'We'll take it to Galveston, I'm sure we can find a buyer.' But it seems more likely that someone has bought that oil and isn't stepping up about who they are," Stoll said.

Monday night, it remained unclear who purchased the Kurdish oil, or whether the oil would be cleared to be delivered to the shore.

"This is a very large and consequently, very deep draft vessel," United States Coast Guard Capt.  Brian Penoyer said.

Penoyer said the oil would have to be offloaded to other ships because the United Kalavrvta is too large for the Houston Ship Channel.

The Coast Guard cleared the ship for offloading Sunday night without incident, but the process of unloading the 1 million barrels of crude had not started Monday afternoon.

Another U.S. agency, could be inquiring about the shipment and perhaps delaying the offload, Penoyer said.

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