From Panama to the UAE: Iranian Tanker Web

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A network of Iranian front companies in Panama owns over 10 percent of the country’s flagged oil tankers, according to an investigation by Levant Networks, which has found a link between the shell companies and a UAE-based firm.

Starting from June 2019, several Panama-registered firms acquired eight tankers blacklisted months prior by the US in its snapback of sanctions on Iran. The vessels were sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury for their links to the state-run National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC).

A fleet of seventy-eight Iran-flagged tankers are currently in service, many owned by a kaleidoscope of front companies around the world, according to data on the Equasis maritime portal developed by France’s Transport Ministry.

Corporate documents reviewed by Levant Networks reveal that the Panamanian firms are all run by Iranians with registered addresses in Tehran. Levant Networks was unable to match the addresses with any corporations or sites of interest in the Iranian capital, with one appearing to be a residential building.

These eight tankers were acquired from firms that were also sanctioned by the US in November 2018. These include the NITC as well as firms based in Belize and the United Arab Emirates that Washington said were linked to Iran’s state-run tanker company.

The three UAE firms listed the same PO Box address in Umm al-Quwain, the least populated emirate in the Gulf state. Washington, in its November 2018 designation identifiers, made no mention of the companies being based out of the UAE.

Levant Networks co-located the address — which is shared with a number of firms using the Umm al-Quwain free zone — with Global Seaways FZE. 

The network of Panamanian front companies and their Iranian directors have a commercial link to Global Seaways FZE, according to maritime data and Panamanian corporate documents.

Levant Networks discovered that the eight Iranians running the fronts have overlapping directorial roles in ten mysterious shipping firms in Panamanian. None of these shadowy companies own or manage any vessels.

However, all of these companies provide a care of address with Global Seaways FZE. 

The US in recent weeks has targeted several UAE-based firms as part of its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign of sanctions waged against Iran. 

On March 19, the US Department of the Treasury announced that it had taken “action against five United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based companies that facilitate the Iranian regime’s petroleum and petrochemical sales.”

“In 2019, these five companies collectively purchased hundreds of thousands of metric tons of petroleum products from the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC),” the Department of Treasury said in a press release. 

In January, the US blacklisted a Hong Kong-registered company with a branches in the UAE, China and Germany that allegedly “ordered the transfer of the equivalent of millions of dollars to NIOC as payment for Iranian petrochemicals, crude oil, and petroleum products shipped to the United Arab Emirates and China.”

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