India monitors Iran ship carrying armed men

NEW DELHI Fri Dec 2, 2011 12:08am IST

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's navy said on Thursday it was monitoring an Iranian cargo ship, with armed men on board, which had been moored off the country's southern coast for more than a month without explanation.

Shipping data showed the ship MV Assa was owned and operated by Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), a company facing sanctions from the United States and the EU.

"The vessel is there and the navy has reported to the concerned Indian authorities that there are men on board carrying arms," navy spokesman Commander P.V.S. Satish told Reuters.

Indian newspapers reported the government had made an official complaint to Iran about the vessel, anchored close to Lakshadweep islands.

Neither Iran's nor India's foreign ministry were immediately available comment on the report.

The MV Assa was last plotted on September 26 off the coast of Oman and India, AIS ship tracking data on Reuters showed.

IRISL was hit with financial sanctions by the U.S. Treasury in 2008 for its alleged role in aiding Iran's ballistic missile development programme.

Such measures are part of wider efforts led by Western countries aimed mostly at forcing Tehran to curb its nuclear energy drive, which they suspect is for developing atomic bombs. Tehran says its nuclear activities have only peaceful purposes.

In May this year, the EU added a number of companies it said were owned or controlled by IRISL to a list of firms facing sanctions and asset freezes for involvement in illegal activities.

IRISL dismissed Washington's sanctions, saying the united States was trying to undermine Iran's economy. A number of shipping companies have issued a legal challenge to the EU sanctions.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Saul)

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