Iraqi Kurdistan's bid to sell its first tanker of crude oil appeared to suffer its second setback in as many weeks on Thursday after the ship left a port in Morocco without a sale which the central Iraqi government opposes.
The United Leadership tanker, a symbol of a long-running feud between Baghdad and the Kurdish Regional Government over oil sale rights, loaded one million barrels of Kurdish crude on May 22 and has changed course twice abruptly without discharging oil.
KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said last week the tanker was designed to show Baghdad that the Kurds controlled their own oil sales.
But Iraq's central government in Baghdad, which has deemed any exports of oil not under its control illegal, so far appears to have been successful in warding off potential buyers.
After first sailing towards the U.S. Gulf Coast, according to tanker tracking data and shipping sources, the vessel turned back towards the Mediterranean at the end of last week.
It sailed to a refinery at the Moroccan port of Mohammedia on June 2 and after sitting anchored for two days the tanker has sailed almost 60 kilometres off the coast, ship tracking data showed.
"The vessel arrived and left without discharging," a local Moroccan shipping source said.
The tanker is now awaiting orders while moving slowly within the country's territorial waters, ship tracking showed on Thursday.
This is the first attempt to sell a shipload of Kurdish crude, which has been exported to Turkey via the region's newly built pipeline.
Opposed to any sale, Baghdad has repeatedly said that state marketer SOMO is the only body allowed to export Iraqi oil and has hired a law firm to pursue anyone who buys it.
A source familiar with the matter said Iraq immediately sought assurances from Morocco's state oil company, foreign and energy ministries that it would not permit the tanker to discharge its oil.
The Moroccan, Iraqi and Kurdish governments either declined to comment or did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment on the tanker on Wednesday and Thursday.
"The harbour office asked the vessel to leave the port as soon as possible," the local shipping source said.
The port authority for Mohammedia declined to comment on the specifics but confirmed the vessel was no longer within its area of control.
Morocco's national port agency did not respond to requests for comment.
(Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Rabat, Isabel Coles in Arbil and David Sheppard in London; editing by Jason Neely)