x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Firm says it did not reflag Iranian ships

Tanzania's government has accused a Dubai company of raising the Tanzanian flag on several Iranian-owned ships, a charge the company denies.

DUBAI // A Dubai company has denied raising the Tanzanian flag on 36 Iranian oil tankers and container ships - a move that might violate international trade sanctions.

Tanzanian authorities have said the oil tankers were reflagged without their knowledge or permission.

"We have no record of any Iranian vessels," said Jocelyn Acosta, a vice president at Dubai-based Philtex, which specialises in marine, legal and engineering surveying consultancy. "These 36 Iranian vessels are not on our records."

The company's operations include registering ships and carrying out technical surveys.

"We handle international fleet and there are no such ships, even in our old records," Ms Acosta said. "We have submitted all documentation and will follow whatever instruction is given by the government. We have done nothing wrong. We are not doing anything against the law of the country."

The reflagging was reported by news agencies and Tanzania's media, which highlighted a letter from a United States congressman, Howard Berman, a California Democrat, to Jakaya Kikwete, the Tanzanian president, last month. The letter warned that the US government would reconsider bilateral programmes with Tanzania unless the latter reversed its decision to let the National Iranian Tanker Company use its flag.

The US believes reflagging ships helps Iran dodge trade sanctions. America and Europe believe that restricting Iran's oil income would hamper its nuclear programme.

"Basically, there were 36 Iranian ships, mainly oil tankers, cruising around using Tanzania's flag. We were alerted to this by the European Union and the United States," said Mohamed Juma, Tanzania's ambassador in the UAE.

"We were not aware of this and investigated further. We learnt that Zanzibar, which is part of the union, has an agent in Dubai called Philtex. They did this without consulting the Zanzibar government.

"Steps are immediately being taken to deregister the ships and stop [them] using our flag."

Mr Juma said Zanzibar's vice president, Seif Ali Iddi, disclosed the matter to the assembly on Friday.

Zanzibar is a semiautonomous territory off the east African coast that shares political union with Tanzania. Mr Juma said Tanzania had sought overseas assistance to trace the origin of the ships.

"We asked our friendly countries to help us. That was when our investigation found that this company was doing business with the Zanzibar Maritime Agency."

Like Panama and Liberia, Zanzibar offers flags of convenience to merchant vessels, a practice that permits its flag to be used instead of that of the ship's owner.

Ship owners use flags of convenience to avoid high regulation, taxation or costs.

Stricter measures will now apply, according to Mr Juma.

"There will be more safeguards now," he said. "Authorities will give shipping agents a plan of action about how to issue certificates. We will need to check thoroughly case by case.

"As UN members, we have a responsibility to adhere to international rules. We do have relations with Iran, but it's our duty to abide by sanctions. We have advised other countries about the names of these ships and asked that they not be permitted to enter any ports with the Tanzanian flag."

rtalwar@thenational.ae