* Without government help more IRISL activities would halt
* Line says was targeted by a cyber attack last year
* IRISL says it does not work for any military agency
By Yeganeh Torbati and Jonathan Saul
DUBAI/LONDON, Oct 22 Targeted Western sanctions
are hurting Iran's vital shipping industry and if the pressure
continues its biggest cargo carrier will face increasingly grave
problems, the head of the Iranian line said.
Many of Iran's imports, including food and consumer goods,
arrive on container, bulker and other ships, but the number of
vessels calling at its ports has dived by more than half this
year as the United States and European Union tighten the screws.
"If the government was not assisting, (sanctions) would have
stopped a lot more of our activity," Mohammad Hussein Dajmar,
managing director of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines
(IRISL), said in an interview published on Sunday.
"If this situation continues, certainly our operations will
face serious problems. Shipping has been among the primary
objectives of sanctions. The damage has had a significant
bearing. More pressure will result in greater damage," Dajmar
was quoted as saying by Iranian business daily Jahan-e Sanat.
Executives of other Iranian shipping companies such as the
National Iranian Tanker Company have been less willing than
Dajmar to speak about the impact of sanctions.
IRISL, has been on a Western blacklist of sanctioned
entities for years accused of transporting weapons, which it
Dajmar said IRISL suffered a cyber attack in August 2011.
"The attack was heavy and showed that they (the attackers)
were being supported by powerful sources," he said. "Most
certainly, some information was stolen from us but we don't have
any secret information."
He said the company had recovered deleted information.
"There was considerable damage. A lot of pressure was
imposed on us," he said.
IRISL has tried to dodge sanctions by changing its flags and
setting up front companies, the U.S. Treasury and the European
Union have said. It remains easy to track a vessel as it keeps a
unique International Maritime Organization (IMO) number.
"We cannot access European waters through changing flags, so
we do not take the risk," Dajmar said.
"The IMO numbers are fixed and finding out who owns a ship
is not a complicated task ... The United Nations has not barred
the activity of our ships, this is only from the U.S. and
Dajmar said out of its fleet of 165 ships, 20 were currently
laid up and not trading.
While broader Western sanctions are directed chiefly against
Iran's nuclear programme, which is suspected of having a
military goal, IRISL has been pinpointed because of suspicions
that it transports weapons for Tehran.
Dajmar said IRISL did not work for any Iranian military
"It's been years that we do not work with them. They don't
have such large needs and any needs that they do have they
produce domestically," he said.
"It's not like during the war years when the amount of
weapons was large and to move them they used ships," he added,
referring to the conflict with Iraq in the 1980s.
As part of the trade restrictions the European Union has put
an embargo on ship insurance provision, which forced IRISL to
switch to Iranian insurance providers.
"Using such (European) insurers was much more profitable and
after losing them, we had to set up domestic insurers," he said.
"We are now in a war. They wanted to force us to fall down
but they didn't succeed. Today, in global markets we lose
markets and the world is putting limitations on us. We will
continue even if there is only one country working with us."
Iran denies that its nuclear research has military purposes.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has faced growing criticism
over his handling of the economy, especially after Iran's rial
currency plunged by more than a third in recent weeks.
Dajmar was quoted earlier this month as saying Iran's
central bank had blocked $50 million of the company's assets -
reflecting the acute shortage of U.S. currency.
"A few years ago our profit was about $500 million. The
company has a strong base but if this situation continues our
activities will definitely face problems," he told the daily.