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Iranian Shipping Plays Cat and Mouse to Avoid Sanctions

Updated on July 26, 2012
The ship the Israelis stopped going to Lebanon
The ship the Israelis stopped going to Lebanon

They look legitimate. Iranian shipping transports carrying large cargo containers all labeled IRISL ( Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines). Looking at their cargo lists seem indicate harmless commodities being traded. Yet, as the Israelis found in 2009, when they intercepted it. Once the documentation was found to be false and fabricated, the ship was forced into an Israeli harbor. Upon opening the cargo containers, what Iran was really shipping were tons of military weapons and rockets. All for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The IRISL has 144 ships and they regularly change names, owners, agents, and flags to avoid the U.S. sanctions. When the ships call on a port or canal, authorities must verify documentation and the cargo manifest to a degree and under what flag the ship is register with. Their ships need to be certified in order to obtain the flag they sail under. Because Iran uses shell corporations, it is very difficult to follow the trail for port authorities, which have little time to grant or deny access to their ports or canals. Verification takes time while the ship waits. It is hard to tell whether the ship has direct ties with the Iranian government, which has sanctions against it versus private shipping firms delivering legit cargo. Complicating the issue is that Iran frequently creates new companies in different countries. They frequently change names, registries, and who is the owner of the vessel creating a web for authorities to untangle. For many port authorities, unless there is an obvious tie to the Iranian government, access will be granted because of the time and lack of resources to find the truth.

That is how Iran supplies rockets and weapons to its proxies.


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