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UN Sanctions Take Aim At Iran's Shipping Industry

The logo of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines mark containers being lifted from a ship in the Israeli port of Ashdod in November 2009.
The logo of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines mark containers being lifted from a ship in the Israeli port of Ashdod in November 2009.
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By Charles Recknagel
As the UN Security Council prepared to debate new sanctions on Iran, it became clear that Iran's shipping industry would be one of the main targets.

A draft of the sanctions proposal leaked to the media contained tough language appealing to all states to help keep track of the activities of Iran's state-owned fleet of vessels.

Specifically, the leaked text requested "all member states to communicate to the [Sanctions] Committee any information available on transfers or activity by...vessels owned or operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL)...that may have been undertaken in order to evade the sanctions."

The call for help is a measure of the cat-and-mouse game that has developed between Iran's state-owned shipping company and states trying to ensure that Iran does not acquire materials that could advance its nuclear and missile programs.

"The New York Times" reported on June 8 that Iran's state-owned ships have changed their names, the flags under which they operate, their registered owners, or their registered operators at a staggering rate since 2008, when Washington unilaterally slapped financial sanctions on the IRISL and 18 of its affiliates.

New Names Or Guises

When Washington "blacklisted" Iran Shipping Lines, it drew up a list of 123 ships to watch. But today, the newspaper reports, only 46 of the ships on that watch list are still clearly owned by the IRISL or its known subsidiaries. All the rest -- except for four that have gone out of service -- today operate under new names or guises that make enforcing the blacklist much harder.

According to data from the London-based ship-tracking service IHS Fairplay, the 123 ships on the watch list have altogether undergone 405 changes since 1990. Of these, 140 changes were to ship's names and 91 were changes of the registered owner.

Valerie Lincy of Wisconsin Project, a Washington-based advocacy group that publishes Iranwatch.org, says many vessels have been given English-sounding names to make them less conspicuous. Vessels have often been renamed to drop the word 'Iran,' which might have been part of their original designation," Lincy says. "For example, the 'Iran Madani' became the 'Adventist,' the 'Iran Ghazi' became the 'Ajax,' and the 'Iran Gilan' became the 'Bluebell.'"

The frenzy of activity means that most of IRISL's former ships now nominally belong to companies registered in places as far-flung as Malta, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Germany, and the Isle of Man.

Matt Godsey, a research associate at the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, says the intent is to make it more difficult for port authorities and others in the shipping business to know that a vessel is on the blacklist.

"Some of the names of some of the front companies have become very British sounding. They sound like little villages in the Cotswolds, like 'Oxsted' shipping," Godsey says. "It is almost as if someone in the company took a map of central England and chose little villages to give as names for the front companies. The pattern there is to not raise suspicion about the origins of the vessels."

For port authorities to see beyond the mask requires that they check the unique ship identification number that all major cargo ships are required to carry. But Godsey says checking a ship's International Maritime Organization (IMO) number, which would tie the ship back to the blacklist, is not always easy.

"The problem is that not everyone in the shipping industry always checks that number [and that's why] the name is so important," Godsey says. "I was talking to a shipping company recently that pointed out that everyone in the shipping industry, whether dealing with freight forwarding or insurance, always know the name of the vessel and checks the name. But the IMO number is not always there; it is not always provided."

With their new names and apparently innocuous owners, the ships can load military-use cargo in foreign ports without automatically raising authorities' suspicions. And because the cargo itself is ordered by other shell companies, the ultimate destination -- Iran -- is also hidden.

'Deceptive Schemes'


U.S. officials spoke of the extent of this duplicity when they first blacklisted IRISL in 2008. Stuart Levy, the U.S. Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said "IRISL not only facilitates the transport of cargo for UN designated proliferators, it also falsifies documents and uses deceptive schemes to shroud its involvement in illicit commerce."

Now, as the Iranian shipping company has raced ahead of the blacklist in a blur of changes, Washington hopes the new UN sanctions will enable it to better keep its watch list updated.

That watch list, in turn, could be used to target the companies for asset freezes if the Security Council includes such provisions in its final version of the sanctions proposal. Western powers on the Security Council are hoping for just such a tough final version, but Russia and China have previously backed only milder measures.

The new round of sanctions on Iran is the fourth since 2006.

The earlier rounds have, among other things, called on states to block Iran's import and export of "sensitive nuclear material and equipment" and called upon countries to inspect cargo planes and ships entering or leaving Iran if there were "reasonable grounds" to believe they were carrying prohibited goods.

The international community is worried Iran is using its civilian nuclear program to mask efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies that charge.
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix, AZ, U.S.A.
June 08, 2010 18:25
Now that most of Iran's deceit and lies are coming to light, it is obvious that 25 years of talks and negotiations have been pretty useless, so why bother with more. Less talk and more action.
In Response

by: Joel from: Perth, Australia
June 09, 2010 08:06
Strongly agree with Bill. The fact the international community has put up with this kind of thing for so long is ridiculous. It's time to up the ante on Iran.
In Response

by: Nick from: CA
June 09, 2010 19:55
Bill,

If you can volunteer yourself, sons, daughters and or realtives,to gpo to action(war) and are ready to come back with loss of limbs, then you can make a comment. On the other had if you are just typical American that will tie a yellow ribbon to trees outside. Be Silence

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
June 09, 2010 09:25
Why is it bad to allow Iran to posess nuclear weapons?

It is sure that they will never use them. As if they use them the USA will sweap Iran out of the map.
If Iran pushes the start button it will be the moment when the ancient Persian civilization cease to exist as a result of the counterstrike of the West.

India has nukes, Pakistan also has nukes. But since they have nuclear weapons chance of military conflict did not increased but the opposite happened.

Nuclear weapons made the Hindustan peninsula more peaceful than before.

As a traditional war can be fought and even win. But everybody know that in a nuclear war there is no winner only loosers on both sides.

Do we afraid that Iran will use its nuclear weapons against Israel? If they do that they will eliminate not only Israel and the Jews but also the Palestinians and the holy city of Jerusalem.

Do we really believe that Iran will be the one who destroys the Al Aksa mosque? Will they really make the holy land uninhabitable?

I don't think so...

Iran needs nuclear weapon not to use it as an attack weapon but as a 'defense shield'.
Because if someone posesses a nuclear weapon that country is practically inviolable. Just have a look at North-Korea. The US does not even think about an invasion against Pyongyang.

But if we look at the Iraqi example Saddam was easily swept away in a minute.

Iran faces the following challenge:
- develop a nuclear weapon as a mean of deterrence
- or without that they will continue to face with a possible military strike by the US

Therefore the more the US or Israel threatens Iran with military strike the more Iran will pursue the nuclear issue.

Exactly a nuclear Iran would not increase the possibility of a military conflict in the Middle East but the opposite. As currently not Iran but the USA is the one who threatens the peace with militant behaviour. (Afghanistan, Iraq). Did Iran provoke a "hot" war anywhere? No
They use 'softer' conflicts while supporting militant organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, or Siite groups elsewhere. And dealing only with the nuclear issue will not prevent Iran fomenting low intensity conflicts in the region. This issue is much more dangerous than the nuclear weapon question.

I definitely do not oppose a nuclear Iran. What I oppose much more is low intensity terrorism supported by Iran and the high intensity militancy done by the USA.
In Response

by: Nick from: CA
June 09, 2010 19:56
Well said Zoltan

by: Kamyar from: USA
June 09, 2010 15:41
As a former citizen of Iran, I can assure you nothing good will come of them possessing a nuclear weapon. Not for offence, not for defense. One aspect that gets left out of the conversation is the fact these people running the country have an attitude of “manifest destiny”.

In Shia Islam, they believe that an Imam (Mahdi) who disappeared will one day return and fill the world with Justice. Similar to the Christian doctrine of “revelations”, the Masonic Figure will only return during the “end times”.

And all they need is one rocket.

by: Prada from: London
June 09, 2010 16:05
If india or pakistan or even isreal has nuclear weapons, they didn't make it themselves they are being controlled direct or indirect by west.
Iran's story is quite different. Even you most probably dont know why there is such a mess, iran already has nuclear weapon and they just need enriched oranium, the revolutionary guard and iran's military is not comparable with iraq or antwhere else in the world. It will be a big danger to any country to even think about invasion.
Whole west worl helped the mad saddam to get a centimeter of iran's land but they couldnt succeed.

Dont't be so simple, iran is the most strateguc land in the middle eadt.
I believe the west needs to choose another way , sanctions and military way is a dead end.

I think new sanctions is just a mistake.

Today Im saying what will happen.
1) IAEA will be kicked out...
2) west will ask for negotiations and iran denies.
3) iran will (not shortly) announce that they have weapons... Nuclear one..

At the end, you said a part of crap : usa will wipe out iran and persian civilization and so... What do you really think? We all coul see what usa could do with taliban and mules in afghanistan and everyday more dead soldiers in iraq... You are over estimating usa's power. Is peace with taliban power of usa? Where is bin ladan?
In Response

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
June 10, 2010 13:04
" You are over estimating usa's power "

I don't think so.

Because destroying a country is uncomparably easier than keeping peace or building a viable, stable and functioning state.

If Iran uses nuclear weapon first the USA will not use conventional forces to penalize Iran like in Iraq or Afghanistan but launch a nuclear counterstrike.

And the USA have well enough nukes to sweap even the memory of Persia out of the world.

Destruction is easy.

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