WASHINGTON, July 9 A prominent U.S. lawmaker has
asked the small South Pacific island nation Tuvalu to stop
reflagging Iranian oil tankers and warned its government of the
risks of running afoul of U.S. sanctions.
The European Union banned Iranian oil imports as well as
providing insurance for vessels carrying Iranian oil on July 1,
and the United States has new economic sanctions that have
curbed Iranian oil imports by most other major nations.
Reflagging ships masks their ownership, which could make it
easier for Iran to obtain insurance and financing for the
cargoes, as well as find buyers for the shipments without
attracting attention from the United States and European Union.
The National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) changed the names
and flags of many of its oil tankers ahead of the EU ban, part
of sweeping economic measures aimed at pressuring Tehran to end
its nuclear program.
As many as 22 ships owned by the National Iranian Tanker
Company have been registered in Tuvalu, said Howard Berman, the
top Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs
"This has the effect of assisting the Iranian regime in
evading U.S. and EU sanctions and generating additional revenues
for its nuclear weapons program and its support for
international terrorism," Berman said in a letter to Tuvalu
Prime Minister Willy Telavi.
Berman said he believes reflagging the tankers could be
deemed as "sanctionable activity" under U.S. rules, and asked
Telavi to cancel the registry of all NITC vessels.
"Given the close and cooperative relationship that our two
governments now enjoy, it would be unfortunate if this action
were permitted to stand," Berman said.
Officials from the country's permanent mission to the United
Nations were not immediately available for comment.
Berman has worked with Democratic Senator Robert Menendez on
legislation that would toughen U.S. sanctions against the NITC.
The U.S. Congress could finalize those new sanctions this month.
Berman recently wrote to Tanzania's president about similar
reports that the east African nation had reflagged Iranian
Last week, Tanzania's foreign minister said he would
investigate and would strip the vessels of the country's flag if
reports were true.
"If it is confirmed that the ships flying Tanzania's flag
are indeed from Iran, we will take steps to deliberately
obliterate the registration," Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard
Membe told reporters.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)