Fifty-six members of the House of Representatives sent a letter this week to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry urging them to take action against Iranian efforts to reflag its vessels, a tactic that Tehran uses to disguise the origin of ships it uses to transport illicit goods to and from the country.
The letter, sponsored by Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), identifies three specific Iranian vessels that have been flagged to different nations, and calls for inquiries as to whether they should be designated by the Office of Foreign Asset Control:
These vessels include The Tour 2 (IMO 9364112, a 158,719 DWT crude oil tanker reportedly owned by the Irano-Hind Shipping Company whose flag is unclear), The Justice (IMO 9357729, a 319,999DWT crude oil tanker reportedly owned by NITC and recently flagged to Tanzania), and The Elegance (IMO 9283758, a 35,118 DWT product tanker reportedly owned by NITC and recently flagged to Tanzania)…
The Tour 2 has made two round trips between Iran and Syria via Egypt over the past year, was recently en route from Syria to Egypt via Cyprus, and now appears to be preparing to transit the Suez Canal, possibly returning yet again to Iran. This vessel was originally flagged to Iran and has since gone through Maltese, Bolivian, Sierra Leonean and Togolese flag registries. Further, The Justice was formerly known as the Dadgar, and was originally flagged to Iran, but subsequently reflagged to Cyprus and then Tanzania. The Justice was recently reported as in Iran after a voyage to China. Likewise, The Elegance, which was originally known as the Iran Faraz and was originally flagged to Iran, but subsequently reflagged to Tuvalu and then Tanzania. The Elegance has just returned to Iran from a voyage to China.
The letter also calls on State and Treasury to “seriously consider sanctioning registries that knowingly participate in efforts to reflag oil tankers and cargo vessels” linked to two designated Iranian entities, the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line (IRISL). Both are deeply implicated in Iranian activities that go beyond attempts to skirt sanctions, efforts in which they are also implicated.
Analysts were outlining the existence of an Iranian “ghost fleet” as early as 2011, when investigators discovered that the Iranians were using a Chinese state-owned Hong Kong firm to evade shipping sanctions. By 2012 officials had discovered that Iran was sending its ships “off radar” to conceal the destinations of oil sales. Meanwhile Iran has been caught reflagging its vessels on multiple occasions.
In response U.S. officials are engaged in a broad effort to play the cat to Iran’s mouse. Yesterday the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on a Greek businessman whose shipping company had assisted Tehran in evading international oil sanctions by purchasing eight tankers capable of carrying $200 million in oil per shipment on behalf of designated Iranian entities:
The U.S. Department of the Treasury today imposed sanctions on a Greek businessman, Dr. Dimitris Cambis, who helped Iran evade international oil sanctions. Through several of his front companies, Cambis used Iranian funds to purchase oil tankers and disguised the Iranian origin of oil transported on these vessels. Cambis, and all of the companies listed today, have been identified as acting on behalf of the Government of Iran and are subject to sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13599, which blocks the property of the Government of Iran.
[Photo: Israel Defense Forces / Flickr]