EU ready to impose blanket ban against company’s ships next month
Such a continent-wide blanket prohibition appears entirely unprecedented. Not even South Africa in the apartheid years, Iraq after the first Gulf conflict, or communist countries at the worst points in the cold war were singled out for harsh treatment on this scale.
But London shipping lawyers confirmed last night that there was a legal basis for the move, while maritime security specialists warned that policing restrictions of this kind could prove impossible.
Meanwhile, IRISL, by far Iran’s largest carrier, said in an email statement that it would refuse to allow earlier rounds of sanctions to “hamper the company’s lawful shipping business”.
Brussels is still in the process of drafting the punitive measures it plans to apply to Iran and their precise content is yet to be disclosed. An announcement is expected on July 26.
Sanctions already imposed by both the US and the United Nations have specifically been aimed at IRISL, which is accused of facilitating Tehran’s nuclear proliferation plans, despite its repeated denials.
Maltese foreign minister Tonio Borg has told the Times of Malta newspaper that the European Council has instructed foreign ministers to move against transport entities, including IRISL and other shipping outfits.
“Besides transport, a number of economic sectors will be targeted by the EU sanctions, which will also include a ban on investments, technical assistance and technology transfers to Iran’s oil and gas industry,” he said.
Mr Borg was travelling today and could not be contacted for additional comment. However, his official spokesman confirmed the accuracy of the report.
Clare Hatcher, a consultant at Clyde & Co, said that there was clearly no legal barrier to the EU acting in this fashion. “If the EU declares sanctions against IRISL vessels — and it is clear that they are targeting the transport sector — then it will become illegal for anyone to bring those vessels into European ports. It is perfectly possible from a legal standpoint. It puts the person who has to comply in a difficult position.”
There are also a number of queries about how a blanket ban would work. A security expert said: “There is such a thing as chartering. If Iran wishes to continue to export, the only way you could stop it would be to put a complete ban on all vessels. But how do you know what the cargo is, and where it is coming from, until the manifest is produced?
“You cannot be found guilty of sanction-busting unless there is policing. But who is going to be policing this and how is it going to be policed?”
The IRISL statement, in the name of chief executive Mohammad Hossein Dajmar, said that it had always been involved in the lawful carriage of goods, particularly bulk commodities including foodstuffs and minerals. It had no need to carry military equipment, weaponry or nuclear equipment as Iran was self-sufficient in these fields.
In an implicit rebuttal of the claim that IRISL is owned by the Revolutionary Guards, a branch of the Iranian military, Mr Dajmar insisted that it was a publicly listed company with thousands of shareholders.
IRISL has instructed its agents and service providers have been advised to co-operate with customs in all destinations served by its vessels. Customers have been advised to comply with UN sanctions.