The rogue state has almost doubled its fleet sailing under other countries’ flags to 123 in the past year, letting China smuggle in up to a million barrels of oil per day – or two-thirds of the UK’s daily use.
Intelligence experts warn that the expanded fleet shows Iran, which announced hardliner Ebrahim Raisi as its president yesterday, is boosting development of its nuclear capability despite international curbs.
Iranian vessels are also ‘spoofing’ – manipulating the GPS that reports a vessel’s position so it appears to be elsewhere when it docks undetected in prohibited areas.
Satellite imagery provided to the The Mail on Sunday shows ships in the illegal armada allegedly spoofing last month, and others travelling to load oil on to Chinese ships in the South China Sea.
Ships also use ‘flag hopping’ to switch their registration between nations and mask their identity.
US sanctions designed to stop Iran financing international terrorism and developing its nuclear programme ban the Middle East state from selling oil abroad.
But China has flouted the ban and increased its secret dealings at sea over the past six months to help bankroll Iran’s nuclear activity, according to United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), an international not-for-profit group led by former US ambassador to the UN Mark Wallace.