A South Korean ship classification society on Thursday sidestepped calls from a US lobby group to halt its verification work in Iran, saying it was concerned that vessel safety and marine environment protection could be compromised by political issues.
Without verification from such bodies, ships are unable to call at international ports.
US group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) last week urged the Korean Register of Shipping (KR) to stop providing classification and certification services to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), its front companies and the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC).
It had described KR’s approach as “irresponsible.”
A targeted campaign by UANI, which includes former US ambassadors on its board and is funded by private donations, has led Germany’s Germanischer Lloyd and France’s Bureau Veritas to drop their classification cover for Iranian shipping firms.
“KR is concerned that there is a potential for ship safety and the protection of the marine environment to be compromised by political issues,” a spokesman said when asked about services it provided for Iranian vessels.
“However, KR is taking this situation extremely seriously and is considering all the available alternatives. It will continue, at all times, to comply with national and international regulations.”
Classification societies are hired by ship owners to regularly check that vessels, from their hull and propulsion systems to the machinery and appliances, meet international safety standards. Under international conventions, a classification is required for a ship to dock at major ports.
“The only responsible course for KR is to stop enabling the regime to circumvent US and EU sanctions at this critical time,” a UANI spokesman said in response on Thursday.
Tehran has faced a series of blows in recent weeks with the exodus of other top classifiers such as Britain’s Lloyd’s Register and Norway’s Det Norske Veritas, which were all part of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), which classes more than 90 percent of the world’s merchant fleet.
There are more than 50 agencies that classify vessels, but not all are members of the IACS, which numbers 13 societies including KR.
Japan and South Korea, among Iran’s top oil buyers, have halted all Iranian imports this month due to sanctions imposed by Brussels on Sunday that aim to cut Tehran’s oil revenues and force it to curb its disputed nuclear programme.
As western powers pile pressure on the Islamic Republic, firms that still trade with Iran are in the line of fire.
“Maritime safety and environmental stewardship clearly have the potential to fall victim to politics here,” another IACS member said.
“When you prevent the world’s top class societies from technically supporting Iranian beneficially owned ships – pushing them into the hands of class and insurance organisations with fewer technical and financial resources – it doesn’t stop them from trading. It just compromises their ability to trade responsibly.”
IRISL has been on a Western blacklist for a number of years, while NITC faces potential sanctions after the US Senate passed a bill in May that aims to target Iran’s biggest tanker operator.
The spokesman with UANI, which seeks to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions, said EU and US sanctions “will work best when non-Western classification societies join the cause instead of providing the regime with loopholes”.
“It is rather disingenuous to portray business with Iran as an exercise in public safety, given how many companies and individuals stand to profit from it,” the UANI spokesman said.
“It is impossible for a shipping company to safely do business with Iran, given the regime’s well known history of deception, falsified cargoes, and shipments to and from terrorists.” -By Jonathan Saul