Friday, September 28 07:20:12
A Chinese shipyard has delivered the first of 12 supertankers to Iran, giving Tehran extra capacity to transport its oil to Asia as it struggles against Western sanctions, but it is unclear if the ship has the permits necessary to call at global ports. Asian countries including China, India and South Korea are among Iran's biggest oil customers, but, to get around a European Union ban on shipping insurance imposed since July 1, they must use the fleet of the National Iranian Tanker Co. (NITC) to bring the crude home. Shipments, however, have become unpredictable as NITC's limited shipping capacity is overstretched, and industry sources said the arrival of the 318,000 deadweight tonne "Panda" in the Gulf in early October may help ease the strain.
The very large crude carrier (VLCC) left Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding on Sept. 18. It was initially due to sail to Iran in May, but the sanctions delayed its delivery. A second vessel, the Souvenir, is conducting sea trials in China, but it is unclear when it would begin commercial operations. "The first of Iran's VLCCs is on its way to Iran. It is unclear how the tanker is being insured in light of the Western sanctions, but I'm sure Iran has found a way," said a Singapore-based oil shipping executive who declined to be named as he was not authorised to talk to the media. Western insurers provide indemnity for the majority of the world's tanker fleet. Western sanctions to pressure Tehran to halt its disputed nuclear programme have cut its crude exports by nearly half to less than one million barrels a day.
Under a $1.2 billion contract, Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding Co Ltd, a unit of China CSSC Holdings Ltd, and Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Co. Ltd plan to deliver 12 supertankers by the end of 2013 to NITC, which would boost the capacity of its fleet by nearly 40 percent to around 86 million barrels. Seven more VLCCs are scheduled for delivery by the end of this year, with the remaining four being built in 2013, giving Iran greater flexibility to store and transport its oil. Earlier this week the U.S. government officially linked Iran's state oil company to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which would enable Washington to apply new sanctions on foreign banks dealing with the company.
The U.S. Treasury, however, said there was not enough information to conclude that NITC was linked to the revolutionary guards, which industry sources said boded well for the shipping firm, for now. "NITC will carry on trading and it seems the U.S. government obviously does not want to kill all trade in oil as otherwise, why was NITC not targeted?," said a European industry source. "The big issue will be to what extent will there be sufficient demand from China and India to keep them in the money." In addition to banning insurance, the EU sanctions are likely to complicate efforts to certify the new NITC tankers at any shipping classification society. Without certification vessels have difficulty securing insurance cover and cannot call at most international ports.
Lead ship classification society, London-based Lloyd's Register, has shut operations in Iran, citing sanctions. "When we pulled out of Iran, we severed our relationship with beneficially owned Iranian vessels," said a Lloyd's Register spokesman. Shipping records show the Panda was operating under the flag of Tuvalu, but the small South Pacific island nation said recently it would de-register