Iraq has filed a case against Greek shipping company Marine Management Services (MMS) for its role in the "illegal" export of crude from the autonomous Kurdistan region, the oil ministry in Baghdad said in a statement on Thursday.
The lawsuit is the latest move by Baghdad to deter customers and thwart independent exports of crude from Kurdistan. The federal government claims sole authority to manage sales of all the oil in Iraq.
The statement said MMS operated five vessels that had transported crude oil on behalf of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) from a Turkish port.
"MMS is liable for damages of at least $318 million, and possibly significantly more, as a result of its willing and active participation in the KRG's illegal crude oil export scheme," the statement read.
Neither Kurdish officials nor the Athens-based shipping company were immediately available for comment.
The Kurds began exporting oil in May via an independent pipeline, which links up with an Iraqi pipeline at the Turkish border before running its course to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. More than 10 million barrels of the oil has been shipped from the port since then, Turkey's energy minister said on Thursday.
The oil ministry said MMS had declared false destinations for its tankers, turned off its ships' tracking systems to avoid detection and undertaken "dangerous" nighttime ship-to-ship transfers of crude oil on the high seas.
One of MMS's tankers, the United Kalavrvta, has been anchored off the coast of Texas since July laden with $100 million worth of crude, with Baghdad threatening to sue anyone who buys the oil and asking a U.S. court to seize the vessel's contents. A Texas court has said it lacks jurisdiction because the tanker is so far offshore.
By Ahmed Rasheed