Iran oil tankers change names as EU ban looms
Iran has given new English names and changed the flags of many of its oil tankers, two of which are steaming towards Europe with an European Union ban on Iranian oil imports just a week away, ship tracking data shows.
The Haraz is now Freedom, Nesa has transformed into Truth, and Sima has become Blossom. At least a third of oil tanker operator National Iranian Tanker Company's (NITC) ships have registered with the pacific atolls of Tuvalu and also Tanzania after dropping their Maltese and Cypriot flags.
NITC is not subject to UN sanctions, but with Malta and Cyprus coming under increased EU pressure to stop flagging Iranian government-linked ships, NITC has hoisted flags from Tuvalu on at least 11 of its 39 oil tankers, while Tanzanian flags fly above at least two.
Merchant ships need a flag from national ship registries to gain access to most of the world's ports.
According to ship tracking data on Reuters, two of the tankers, now called Pioneer and Elite, were heading through the Red Sea towards Europe on Sunday, where a ban on buying Iranian oil comes into effect on July 1.
NITC declined to comment.
UN-sanctioned sister company the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines frequently changes the names of its cargo vessels in an attempt to conceal their connection to IRISL, which Washington and the EU suspect helps transport military equipment for Iran.
Only three of the 15 NITC vessels whose onboard ship position transmitters are showing as switched on have not changed their names yet, according to the Reuters Freight Fundamentals Database.