Thwarted Iran grain imports sail away

Tue Mar 6, 2012 12:25pm EST

* Financial sanctions freezing bank finances

* Cargoes diverted at loss to new buyers - trade

By Jonathan Saul and Michael Hogan

LONDON/HAMBURG, March 6 (Reuters) - Grain ships stranded outside Iran's main food cargo terminal due to western sanctions have been diverted to new destinations with no backlog left, trade sources said on Tuesday

In late January as much as 400,000 tonnes of grain were being held up on 10 vessels mainly outside Bandar Imam Khomeini, one of Iran's largest grain terminals, as EU sanctions froze the assets of Iran's central banks and held up payments for consignments, causing a trade finance squeeze.

Trader sources had said by the middle of February there were around three vessels left as cargoes were diverted to new buyers. Ships at the time had been held up for as long as three weeks.

AIS ship tracking data on Reuters showed there was only one cargo vessel in the line up headed for the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr.

"Everything seems now to have been resold. It has mostly gone to other Gulf and Middle Eastern buyers," a European grain trader said.

"On feed grains, people are waiting to see how the sanctions work before booking new cargoes. Transhipment though Iraq is also being considered."

Another trade source said the remaining cargoes had been sold to buyers in countries including Yemen, Sudan and Egypt.

"They were sold at a huge loss," the trade source said.

Traders said this week Iran's state grains agency the Government Trading Corporation of Iran was in talks about buying several hundred thousand tonnes of Russian and Indian wheat.

In the last month, the Islamic Republic has bought or tried to buy nearly 3 million tonnes of wheat on fears the sanctions will disrupt imports and cause bread shortages.

On March 1 the U.S. Agriculture Department revealed that Iran had made a rare purchase of 120,000 tonnes of U.S. wheat in an effort to build food stockpiles as the United States and Europe implement tough new sanctions to contain Tehran's disputed nuclear programme.

Food shipments are not targeted under western sanctions. Nevertheless targeted financial measures have meant Iranian firms have been frozen out of much of the global banking system making it tough to obtain letters of credit or conduct international transfers of funds through banks. (Editing by William Hardy)