May 24, 2012 | Reviewed by Michael Cotter, Publisher, American Diplomacy

The Magician Behind Iran’s Vanishing Oil Tankers

This interesting article by the Journalist-in-Residence at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies sheds some light on one of what undoubtedly are many efforts by the Iranian government to sidestep current and likely international sanctions. It notes that oil tankers belonging to the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) have been turning off their onboard vessel tracking systems, which, as required by the International Maritime Organization, reveal where registered ocean-going vessels are located. While the IMO system is designed to improve safety at sea, especially in heavily traveled shipping lanes, the ability to track the location of specific ships also has intelligence value these days.

The author gives the lie to NITC claims that it is a purely private company, highlighting the company’s and its leadership’s close ties to the regime. Even without such evidence, it is difficult to believe that any part of Iran’s petroleum industry lies outside of the government’s (or, in many cases, the Revolutionary Guard’s) control.

The author is more interested in tracing the ties that link NITC and its directors to the Iranian government than in speculating about the purpose behind the disappearance of NITC vessels from the “global grid.” She does, however, suggest the obvious one: that the NITC, which is not currently covered by the UN and U.S. sanctions on Iran, will soon feel the impact of those sanctions. Whether this effort to avoid being tracked at sea will be more effective than changing the registration of NITC vessels to flags of convenience is doubtful. Certainly those organizations responsible for enforcing sanctions have independent means of tracking NITC vessels. In any event, this article is graphic evidence that the game of cat and mouse between the sanctions regime and Iran continues apace. As such it deserves wider circulation.

Read the full article here.