Monday, July 02, 2012

Iran tankers adopt Tanzania flag to avoid embargo

By The Citizen Reporter

Dar es Salaam. Reports that an Iranian oil-tanker company has renamed at least 10 of its vessels and switched them to Tanzania’s flag to get round international sanctions sent shockwaves through the country’s leadership on Wednesday, last week. 

Government ministers and public officials went into overdrive following reports that the company had changed the registration of several of its ships and was now passing itself off as a Tanzanian firm. The vessels were apparently registered in Zanzibar.

The Minister for Transportation, Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, said he was aware of the development and had taken action. But his Foreign Affairs counterpart, Mr Bernard Membe, was in the dark about the saga.

The international news agency Bloomberg reported yesterday that the oil tanker company known as NITC, which is owned by the Iranian Pension Fund, has renamed at least 10 of its vessels and switched to the Tanzanian flag.

Mr Membe, who described the news as “shocking, strange and irregular according to the governing laws”, said thorough investigations would be conducted to establish the truth.

Bloomberg reported that NITC renamed five of its very large crude carriers, each holding about two million barrels of oil, and five Suezmaxes with a capacity for one million barrels.

Quoting the Equasis shipping database maintained by the European Commission, the reports pointed out that ownership of the ships was switched from NITC to new companies operating from the same address in Tehran. NITC remains the operator, though. All the ships were previously registered in Malta or Cyprus.

This development comes a few days before the full European embargo on Iranian crude exports, which starts next Monday, is extended to insuring vessels that carry the oil. Some 25 NITC tankers are being used to store crude, the Paris-based International Energy Agency said.

The US and Europe plan to impose the embargo on Iranian crude oil export amid fears that Iran nuclear programme is aimed at developing atomic weapons.  Mr Membe said: “That’s very strange and it’s irregular, in accordance with the governing laws. I will need to consult authorities in Iran for this matter.” 

He spoke at Julius Nyerere International Airport shortly before boarding a plane for an official trip abroad. The minister has directed various departments to investigate how it was that a foreign company was able to fly a Tanzania flag on its properties.

Dr Mwakyembe said he was aware of the matter but did not have details, which he said the authorities were still working on.  Since the vessels were registered in Zanzibar, he added, it was important that his Zanzibar counterpart comments first.

“I can’t comment before the Zanzibar minister for Communication and Transport has done so,” he said. “Contact me after he comments.

The Surface and Maritime Regulatory Authority (Sumatra) acting Director General, Mr Ahmad Kilima, echoed the sentiments but added that the Tanzania Maritime Act prohibits foreign companies from registering their ships in the United Republic. But Zanzibar, which has separate laws on the issue, does allow open registration.

Efforts to reach the Zanzibari minister, Mr Hamad Masoud, proved futile and the Zanzibar Maritime Authority (ZMA) boss, Mr Abdallah Hussein Kombo, would neither confirm nor deny the reports. 

He did say, though, that Zanzibar’s Marine Act does not prohibit foreign companies from registering their vessels in the Isles. “I can only confirm it if you send me the name of the ships and the company,” Mr Kombo said. “As for now, I am not aware of the news.”  But when contacted later, Mr Kombo denied knowledge of any transaction involving ZMA and NITC.  He added: “We have not registered any vessel owned by NITC. Maybe the vessels were registered under another company’s name.”

Govt moves to clear riddle on 10 vessels

On Thursday the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar said it was trying to establish whether 10 vessels allegedly from an Iranian company have been registered in Zanzibar and now fly the Tanzanian flag.

Speaking on phone from Zanzibar yesterday, minister for Infrastructure and Communications Mr Hamad Masoud said he had instructed the Director General of the Maritime Authority to look into the matter and determine the registration of the vessels. 

“I have ordered Mr Abdallah Kombo, the Director General of the Maritime Authority to make a follow up and submit a report to me immediately because we have no record of the alleged vessels,” he told this paper. 

According to reports, an Iranian oil-tanker company has renamed at least 10 of its vessels and used the Tanzanian flag to avoid international sanctions.

Minister Masoud stated that he was not aware of the reports that there were 10 vessels of the Iranian oil company that use the Tanzanian flag illegally.

But he could not rule out whether the vessels had been registered as Zanzibar had an open registry agency based in Dubai called Philtex, whose function is to register foreign vessels and enable them to operate with the Tanzanian flag.

He said the company was established in 2008 and had already registered over 100 international vessels now flying the Tanzanian flag.

Mr Masoud explained that Philtex conducted its business seriously and kept all registration records saying the registration agency had the mandate to register only local vessels.

Efforts to reach his Tanzania Mainland counterpart Dr Harrison Mwakyembe for comment on the development of the matter didn’t pay off. Recently, the international news agency, Bloomberg, reported that the oil tanker company known as NITC owned by the Iranian Pension Fund renamed at least 10 of its vessels and switched to the Tanzanian flag. 

Furthermore, efforts to seek comments from the Iranian embassy spokesperson did not succeed yesterday after our reporters were told that all top officials at the embassy had gone to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. This paper could not immediately establish if they were summoned over the same issue

No comments: