The government in Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania, will deregister Iranian oil tankers flying its flag to dodge sanctions, Maritime Transport Minister Rashid Suleiman Seif said Monday.
"It was an unfortunate move," Seif said in reference to the decision to allow as many as 36 tankers and container ships that are Iranian-owned to operate under a flag of convenience.
"The government has decided to deregister the ships, and also be careful when registering foreign ships," he told AFP.
Reflagging Iranian oil tankers allowed Tehran to evade sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union because of its nuclear programme.
Swapping a ship's flag for that of a different nation not facing sanctions allows for the easier movement of the vessel.
Abdallah Kombo, the director of the Zanzibar Maritime Authority (ZMA), said it was "cheated" by its Dubai-based agent Philtex Corporation, which is alleged to have reflagged the Iranian vessels.
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"We are verifying the evidence, but our agent Philtex in Dubai is disputing the number of ships, saying not all the 36 ships are owned by Iran. We also need to establish how Philtex cheated us," he told AFP.
Philtex Corporation executives have been quoted in United Arab Emirates media as denying having registered any Iranian vessels under a flag of convenience.
On Friday Zanzibar's Vice President Seif Ali Iddi told the island's parliament the authorities had investigated and confirmed "that 36 crude oil tankers and container ships flying the Tanzania flag are indeed from Iran."
The tankers were registered by Zanzibar Maritime Authority (ZMA) through Philtex, Iddi said, adding that the government was deregistering all the ships and also annulling the "contract with Philtex for misleading us."
A US lawmaker in June accused Tanzania of helping Tehran dodge international sanctions by allowing Iranian vessels to fly the Tanzanian flag.
On July 1 the EU began banning oil imports as well as the provision of insurance for vessels carrying Iranian oil. The United States has also put in place new economic sanctions that have curbed Iranian oil imports by many nations.
But the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) changed the names and flags of many of its vessels ahead of the EU ban.