|Thursday, 05 July 2012 22:24
By Mkinga Mkinga
The Citizen Reporter
Dar es Salaam.
Tanzania has joined forces with the European Union (EU) and the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar to investigate the true owner of the Iranian tankers that have reportedly been re-registered and enabled to fly the Tanzanian flag.
Speaking with reporters yesterday, minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Bernard Membe said the decision had been reached at talks between Vice President Mohammed Gharib Bilal and representatives of Zanzibar and the EU.
“The Union government and that of Zanzibar will not ignore the allegations about the Iranian oil tankers flying the Tanzanian flag,” Mr Membe said.
This development comes after a closed-door meeting between Mr Membe and US Ambassador to Tanzania Alfonso Lenhardt on Monday.
“We have launched a joint investigation to establish the truth on the real owner of the oil tankers re-registered in Zanzibar before we issue a concrete statement,” Mr Membe told The Citizen. “It will be done jointly by Tanzanian and US authorities.”
Mr Membe also had plans to meet the head of the EU delegation to Tanzania, Mr Filberto Sibregondi.
Flanked by senior officials in his ministry, Mr Membe said Tanzania decided to set up the investigation after Iran’s ambassador to Tanzania denied the allegations. The Dubai-based agent for Zanzibar Maritime Authority, Philtex, also claimed the oil tankers had nothing to do with Iran.
“We have solid reasons to do thorough investigation since even the agent has denied the Iranian ownership,” Mr Membe said. “When I met the ambassador on July 2, he also denied knowledge of the ships.”
These developments give a new twist to a matter that was initially perceived as light comments made by a lawmaker in his private capacity. Zanzibar’s participation in the investigations is of particular interest in the light of Iran’s denials.
This paper reported last Sunday that Mr Howard Berman, a member of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, had accused Tanzania of reflagging at least six and possibly as many as 10 tankers owned by the National Iranian Tanker Company. Tanzania could face US sanctions should that be the case.
“This action by your government has the effect of assisting the Iranian regime in evading US and EU sanctions and generating additional revenues for its nuclear enrichment and weapons research programme and its support for international terrorism,” Mr Berman said in a letter to President Jakaya Kikwete that was obtained by Reuters.
“If it is confirmed that the ships flying Tanzania’s flag are indeed from Iran, we will take steps to deliberately obliterate the registration but that will be done only after the investigation is concluded,” Mr Membe said.
The Zanzibar government said last week that it had granted registration to 11 oil tankers formerly registered in Malta and Cyprus and accused the media of publishing misleading reports. Zanzibar’s minister for Infrastructure and Communication, Mr Hamad Masoud Hamad, told the House of Representatives that the vessels were operated by firms owned by nationals of the British Virgin Islands and Seychelles.
He named the ships that were once registered in Malta as Daisy, Magnolia, Companion, Camellia, Clove and Lantana. Justice, Courage, Freedom, Valor and Leadership were formerly registered in Cyprus.