News / Asia

Hong Kong Shipping Under Scrutiny for Iran Links

The container vessel
The container vessel "IRAN PIROOZI" anchors at the quay of Aker MTW Shipyard in Wismar, northern Germany, after namegiving ceremony ( 2003 file photo).
Ivan Broadhead

In the past year the United Nations has tried to tighten restrictions on an Iranian shipping company accused of helping Tehran gather materials for its nuclear program. Security Council Resolution 1929 has helped locate ships operating under the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) and turn them away from ports in Europe and North America.  The measure has been much less effective in Asia.

Last week, David S. Cohen, U.S. Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, again warned the Asian shipping industry that conducting business with the IRISL contravenes international law.

Meeting industry representatives in Hong Kong, Cohen named 19 ships that he says the Iranian company renamed and transferred ownership to local shell companies to conceal their identity.

Deceptive practices

Claudia Rosett is with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies - an institute financed by private donors and the U.S. government that studies terrorism.  She has investigated the Iranian company’s sanctions-thwarting methods by using records in the Hong Kong Marine Department.

"You start to see what is really an amazing global network of shell companies, deceptive practices and so on, with which Iran has been trying to get around sanctions on its commercial shipping," she said.

Rosett says one former IRISL ship now registered to a Hong Kong shell company has even been renamed The Alias.

US warning

The U.S. Treasury department warns that any organization found trading with IRISL - even one of its covertly registered entities - would be considered to be helping thwart the United Nations sanctions.

However, Hong Kong marine industry representatives say they do not have the resources adequately to police one of the world’s busiest ports, through which almost half a million ships and 268 million tons of cargo pass each year.

Industry representatives say they need extra intelligence to keep IRISL out of Hong Kong and to prevent their business being unfairly tarnished.

Arthur Bowring is managing director of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association, which includes insurers, fuelling companies, port authorities and other marine services providers.

"A lot of the information is very vague," he said. "It’s a minefield for operators; a lawyer’s paradise in many ways."

Capabilities

Bowring says the industry is committed to upholding sanctions against Iran, which were incorporated into Hong Kong law this June. But he adds that his members are not intelligence experts and yet are being asked by Washington to second-guess which, if any, companies might be a front for IRISL.   

"It makes life extremely difficult for ship owners, who don’t want to trade with Iran, aren’t trading with Iran.  Yet they are caught up with the associated link," he says.

Bowring admits that shippers are nervous of falling foul of the U.S. Treasury, a view with which Rosett sympathizes.

"My guess would be it’s not the intention of the U.S. government to scare people, but to point out that Iran is exploiting the services of Hong Kong’s terrific, vibrant business community... The problem really lies with Iran," said Rosett.

Cohen also met with China’s four largest state banks and warned them they could be sanctioned should they do business with Iranian financial institutions with ties to Iran’s nuclear program.  A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman later said none of China’s business with Iran violates U.N. resolutions.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs