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Iran Says Singapore Frees 3 Impounded Iranian Ships

Iran says it has secured the release of three Iranian cargo ships seized by Singapore several months ago in a financial dispute linked to U.N. sanctions against Tehran.

Iranian Commerce Minister Mehdi Ghazanfari told Iran's semi-official Fars news agency that Singapore freed the Iranian ships Wednesday. He said the financial dispute that led to their seizure was caused by "Westerners."

Authorities confirmed in December that Singapore had been holding the three ships - named Tochal, Sahand and Sabalan - for several months and put the vessels up for auction because their owner failed to repay a loan from a French bank.

State-run Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines says France's Credit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank called in the loan early because the shipping company lacked what the bank considered to be "credible insurance" for the ships.

IRISL chairman Mohammad Dajmar told Iran's Press TV network that his company had repaid the remaining $200 million to the bank.

U.S. officials say sanctions imposed on IRISL by Washington, the European Union and the United Nations have put the company under financial pressure and reduced the number of ports at which it can operate.

The United States froze the assets of IRISL under U.S. jurisdiction in 2008, accusing it of transporting military cargo for Iran in defiance of international restrictions. The U.N. Security Council has imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran to punish it for developing a nuclear program that Western nations fear could be used to make atomic bombs.

Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.

Hong Kong authorities impounded a ship linked to IRISL in November after a German bank accused the owner of defaulting on $268 million in loans. It remains anchored in Hong Kong waters.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.

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