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Iran Ship’s Escape Shows Cat-and-Mouse Game of Sanctions

A fleeing ship went back on the U.S. blacklist on Friday, proving the difficulty in enforcing some U.S. sanctions.

Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters
An Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines container is seen outside the Malta Customs warehouse at the Malta Freeport in the Port of Marsaxlokk, outside Valletta, on Feb. 11, 2012.

The MV Amina, an Iranian-flagged cargo ship, was detained by Sri Lanka in December after Germany’s DVB Bank SE obtained a court order to hold the vessel after the owners defaulted on a payment, according to a Reuters report.

Following its detention, the U.S. Treasury Department, which blacklisted the ship in 2008, issued a general license in early January that authorized certain transactions “related to the arrest, detention, and judicial sale” of the MV Amina.

“Such transactions include…bidding on the purchase of the vessel; paying deposits; providing financing, insurance, or funding in connection with the purchase; and, in furtherance of the arrest, detention, and judicial sale of the vessel, providing vessel management services; providing port agency services; purchasing of bunkers; repairing or modifying the vessel for commercial use; providing crewing; and hiring surveyors to inspect the vessel,” the license said.

But the Reuters report said the ship fled, even after the Sri Lankan navy fired warning shots, and that it wasn’t possible to immediately confirm the vessel’s exact location. The report said it was unclear what cargo the vessel carried.

On Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department revoked the license to conduct the transactions.

“We revoked the license because we learned that the Amina had escaped arrest in Sri Lanka,” said John Sullivan, a Treasury spokesman, in an email.

The MV Amina is managed by Tehran-based Rahbaran Omid Darya Ship Management, Reuters reported, citing public shipping registers and ship-tracking data.

Washington and Brussels, according to Reuters, have accused the firm of acting as a front for Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, or IRISL, the state shipper that is a prime target of Western sanctions.

The U.S. and the European Union have accused IRISL of trying to dodge sanctions by changing its flags and setting up front companies.

Both the changing of flags and the fleeing of detainment highlight the challenges the West faces in enforcing sanctions it imposes on Iran.

Other countries are coming to the aid of the West and canceling the flag registrations of Iranian cargo ships. But as one country cracks down, the shipper sometimes finds a new flag under which to sail.

Last year, Ali Ezzati, IRISL’s manager for strategic planning and international affairs, obliquely referred to how the company dodges the increasing pressure of sanctions.

“When you push someone from a room, he should find a door,” Ezzati was quoted as saying. “If he can’t find a door then he should try to find a small hole.”

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About Corruption Currents

  • Corruption Currents, The Wall Street Journal’s corruption blog, digs into the ever-present and ever-changing world of corporate corruption. It is a source of news, analysis and commentary for those who earn a living by finding corruption or by avoiding it. Corruption Currents is written by Christopher. M. Matthews and Sam Rubenfeld and edited by Nick Elliott.

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