Maersk fears new U.S. sanctions may disrupt Iran's food imports

SINGAPORE, June 29 Wed Jun 29, 2011 5:52am EDT

SINGAPORE, June 29 (Reuters) - The head of Maersk Line (MAERSKb.CO) on Wednesday raised concerns that U.S. sanctions against a major Iranian port operator could disrupt food shipments to the Islamic Republic.

Lawyers for the world's top container shipping firm were reviewing whether it needed to alter its operations in Iran to comply with last week's blacklisting of Tidewater Middle East Co by the United States.

"One thing we are concerned about is that we carry a lot of the reefer (refrigerated) cargo with food to Iran," Eivind Kolding, chief executive of Maersk Line, told a news conference in Singapore.

"With a society that depends on this supply chain, it is important it goes on somehow even if we have to interrupt our services."

The sanctions were expected to force shippers to avoid the main container terminal at Bandar Abbas and other port facilities managed by Tidewater Middle East, which Washington suspects is run by the Revolutionary Guards, a U.S. Treasury official said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday the sanctions, which target two major segments of Iran's transport infrastructure that the U.S. Treasury said were being used to aid Iran's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, could affect Russian companies and raise serious questions.

"We are of course very observant to the rules by the United States and the EU about Iran and we really do our utmost to make sure we are compliant," Kolding said.

"But it is not so easy to be in compliance because some of the rules are quite open to interpretation."

For example, it was not clear whether Maersk would be in compliance if it used European-flagged vessels at Iranian ports instead of ships registered in the United States since the EU has not blacklisted Tidewater.

Separately, Hong Kong-based Orient Overseas Container Line last week suspended its direct voyages to Bandar Abbas.

A spokesman said it stopped the service for commercial reasons and not because of the U.S. sanctions. (Reporting by Randy Fabi; Editing by Ramthan Hussain)

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