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Thursday, 10 June 2010

While news of further attempts to sanction Iran through the UN Security Council continues to appear on Australian media websites, an interesting item of investigative reporting by The New York Times is ignored by the editors of our broadsheets.

The report from correspondents on three continents, shows that Iran has gone to extraordinary lengths to mask the activities of ships previously explicitly (and ultimately) owned by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, IRISL. Hundreds of ships are now owned by shell companies based in places like Germany, the Isle of Man and Hong Kong, and these ships are doing business for Iran. One ship, The Diplomat, picked up a high-speed boat in South Africa that is classed among goods forbidden for trade with Iran.

In addition to a three-page news feature detailing the ship rebadging and reflagging, the ship ownership links with IRISL and the types of trade being undertaken with reflagged ships, the report includes an interactive graphic.

The graphic shows that there have been over 400 changes to 123 Iranian ships since 1990. Half of the changes have taken place since the beginning of 2009.

One thing the report does not detail at such length, however, is how new vessels built recently have been handled. There is some detail on this aspect of the case, but the journalists clearly point to further attempts by Iran to break the UN blockade by creatively flagging newly-built vessels, and placing them under complex ownership regimes.

The implications of the report are immense. In effect, Iran has been illegally trading, buying and transporting goods using secretly-owned ships for decades, and the extent of the activity has accelerated at the same time that countries like the United States have been most vocal about the country's nuclear program. Who knows what other technologies have successfully been shipped to Iran for inclusion in its uranium enrichment program from other countries?

The report appeared on Monday.

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