Monday, 19 April 2010

Iran's blacklisted fleet has changed identity to circumvent sanctions, says Iran Watch

The Washington based Wisconsin Project, a “private, non-profit, non-partisan foundation that operates in Washington, D.C. under the auspices of the University of Wisconsin,” says that the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) fleet of 123 vessels continues to be given new identities in an attempt to circumvent a United States blacklist that is now outdated.

Back in September 2008, The US blacklisted IRISL because it said that the shipping company was carrying military equipment, including material for Iran’s nuclear programme, in contravention of UN sanctions. ‘Iran Watch’, a part of the Wisconsin Project, says that IRISL then began to immediately give their ships new names, new nominal owners and managers, removing the name ‘Iran’ from the ships names and documents. The US blacklist has not kept pace with these changes, says Iran Watch, as a result of which IRISL ships have been successful, thus far, in evading sanctions.

In 2008, the US had frozen IRISL assets and banned all US parties from doing business with the shipping company pursuant to Executive Order 13382. Iran Watch says that the US Treasury Department was responsible for enforcing the blacklist; its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) had published the names and unique IMO numbers of all of IRISL’s 123 vessels at the time. The OFAC had instructed a range of commercial interests, from US banks to charterers, cargo interests, shippers and freight forwarders, not to have anything to do with those vessels.

IRISL then started renaming its ships, says Iran Watch. “Iran Brave,” became “Margrave,” “Iran Dolphin” became “Alameda,” and “Iran Matin” became “Abba,” as just three examples.”In all, at least 80 vessels have been renamed so far; 40 of these had the word “Iran” in their names before the change, and all 40 emerged without it”, says Iran Watch in a report.

What’s more, “IRISL began transferring nominal ownership of the ships to shell companies, mainly in Malta, Germany, and Hong Kong”. Front companies were easy to setup as IRISL already had operations in these locations. “IRISL Malta, for example, now shares its office space in a low-rise apartment building in the city of Sliema with a host of newly formed companies, including Jackman Shipping Company, Newhaven Shipping Company, Lancing Shipping Company, Oxted Shipping Company, and ten others, each of which is now the new registered owner of an IRISL vessel. The same pattern was followed at IRISL’s German branch”, says Iran Watch.

IRISL also floated a new company in Tehran. Called “Soroush Sarzamin Asatir SSA,” it is now the official ship manager for more than half of the sanctioned vessels. IRISL was managing all their vessels in September 2008; the reasons for the changes are obvious.

Says Iran Watch, "Iran has made more of an effort to circumvent the sanctions imposed on IRISL than the United States has made to enforce them”. It points out that the only detail that cannot be changed, the unique IMO number allotted to each vessel, is a detail that does not appear on many commercial documents. In the absence of the US Treasury Dept. maintaining an updated list with the new names of the ships, owners and managers, therefore, “even honest US companies are finding it difficult to comply with US sanctions,” says Iran Watch.

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