THE Union and Zanzibar governments have sought assistance from the United States and the European Union (EU) to jointly help in investigating and verifying allegations that Iranian ships have reflagged the Tanzanian flag.
The Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister, Mr Bernard Membe, told a news conference in Dar es Salaam on Thursday that it would obliterate the registration if the allegations would be proved. "We have conducted our investigation with the Zanzibar Maritime Authority (ZMA) and found out that there were 399 ships and the 11 tankers in question that have been registered by an authorised agent, Filtex, in Dubai," he said.
Mr Membe explained that the two governments lacked the capacity to do the investigations and verifications themselves and needed the U.S. and EU to support and the U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania has approved. He said that given the seriousness of the issue, even after learning that the 11 ships were de-registered in Malta and Cyprus had decided to jointly verify the real ownership of the vessels as well as to investigate allegations of the presence of the Iranian-reflagged ships operating in deep waters.
On Saturday June 30, 2012, a high-ranking member of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Mr Howard Berman, accused Tanzania of reflagging at least six and possibly as many as 10 tankers owned by the National Iranian Tanker Company. "This action by your government has the effect of assisting the Iranian regime in evading U.S. and EU sanctions and generating additional revenues for its nuclear enrichment and weapons research programme and its support for international terrorism," Mr Berman had said in a letter to President Jakaya Kikwete.
This comes in response to international media reports that NITC, an oil-tanker company owned by Iranian pension funds, renamed at least 10 of its vessels and switched them to flying the Tanzanian flag amid increasing curbs on transactions with the Persian Gulf nation. NITC renamed five large crude oil carriers, each with a capacity to hold about 2 million barrels of oil, and five Suezmaxes, hauling 1 million barrels each, according to the Equasis shipping database maintained by the European Commission.
Ownership was switched from NITC to new companies operating from the same address in Tehran and NITC remains the operator, the data show. All the ships were previously registered in Malta or Cyprus. A European embargo on Iranian crude exports, which came into effect on July 1, extended to insuring vessels that carry oil. Twenty-five NITC tankers are being used to store crude, the Paris-based International Energy Agency said on June 13, this year.
Mr Membe said that the motive behind the joint action wasn't because of the letter that had been addressed to President Kikwete but because Tanzania respected international law. He said that being a member of the United Nations, Tanzania was duty bound by the resolution that prohibits any country to engage with Iran in any way that enables it to evade the U.S. and EU sanctions imposed on Iran.
"It should be noted that we are carrying out the investigations even after the agency that is legally registered with ZMA has denied that the ships are Iranian and even after calling upon the Iranian Ambassador to Tanzania. When all has been looked at, we will give an open statement," he said.
The minister cautioned the public to be patient when these investigations are being conducted and to be vigilant in their talk on these matters because unguided talk could easily plunge the nation into unnecessary chaos and breakup of the union.
Mr Membe was not in the position to specify how long the investigations would take and that should it be known that either the vessels are verified that they are indeed Iranian or there are vessels operating in deep waters that have reflagged, then decisive measures of de-registering them will be taken.
In another development, Mr Membe said that the government through Uranium One, a Russian company tasked with the mining of uranium in the country, would ensure the mined yellow cakes do not reach into wrong hands. "As was announced a couple of days ago, the World Heritage Committee has given Tanzania the nod to mine uranium. We are banking on Russia's vast experience in this field but we will work closely together that the mined product doesn't reach into the hands of people with ill intentions," he said.
The decision was derived from a meeting in St Petersburg in the Russian Federation from June 24 to July 4, 2012, the committee unanimously approved Tanzania's request to modify the boundary of the game reserve by 0.8 per cent.
The decision means that some 19,793 hectares (nearly 200 square kilometres) to the south of the Selous, where uranium deposits are found, will also be excluded. allAfrica.com: Tanzania: Govt Asks U.S., EU Support On Iran Tankers Probe