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Maersk suspends some Iran ops over sanctions

Singapore, June 30, 2011

The world's largest container firm suspended operations at several Iranian ports, potentially disrupting critical food shipments as it complies with tightening US sanctions.

A P Moller-Maersk manages several refigerated ships that transport food to the country, typically a major importer of wheat, rice and palm oil.

Although shipments could be delayed ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, analysts do not expect any major long-term disruption.

Maersk operates in other Iranian ports and could also divert shipments to Dubai, partnering with other companies that are not bound by US sanctions aimed at curtailing Iran's alleged nuclear weapons programme.

'Although Maersk has suspended its direct service to Bandar Abbas, it is still able to carry cargo to Iran using third-party feeders,' said Hua Joo Tan, an analyst with industry consultancy group Alphaliner.

'Most container services are still calling at Iranian ports as most of these operators are not affected by the US sanctions.'

The US last week blacklisted Tidewater Middle East and prohibited US entities from any transactions with the major Iranian port operator, which manages over 90 per cent of the country's container operations.

'Maersk Line is committed to complying with all relevant foreign trade controls and sanctions programmes,' said Morten Engelstoft, chief operating officer for Maersk Line in a statement on Thursday.

'In this connection, Maersk Line has decided to cease acceptance of, business to and from the Iranian ports of Bandar Abbas, Bandar Khomeini and Asaluyeh.”

Shipping alternatives

The sanctions on Iran are expected to force many shippers to avoid the main container terminal at Bandar Abbas and other port facilities managed by Tidewater Middle East, which Washington suspects is run by the Revolutionary Guards.

Tidewater-managed ports have been used to export arms or handle related material in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, the US Treasury said last week.

'They (Iran) are significant importers of Australian wheat, Thai rice and Malaysian palm oil,' said Ker Chung Yang, an agricultural commodities analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore.

'We are not sure how they are going to sort this out as it could disrupt food supply to Iran, especially ahead of the Ramadan festival.'

Hong Kong-based Orient Overseas Container Line  last week suspended its direct voyages to Bandar Abbas, saying it was due to commercial reasons and not because of US sanctions.

A spokesman for privately owned Switzerland-based Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), the world's second largest container firm after Maersk, said its Iranian operations were not immediately affected by the sanctions.

Bandar Abbas, the world's 49th largest container port in 2009, handled around 2.6 million twenty-foot equivalent container units last year, according to Tidewater's website.

The port, along with Bandar Imam and Bandar Amirabad, handled a total of 2.56 million tonnes of general cargo and 10.32 million tonnes of bulk goods. – Reuters




Tags: Iran | Singapore | Ports | Maersk | US sanctions | Shipper |

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