DAR ES SALAAM Tanzania is looking into U.S. accusations it has reflagged oil tankers from Iran and would strip the vessels of the east African country's flag if that proved to be the case, the foreign minister said on Thursday.
Howard Berman, the ranking member of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, has accused Tanzania of reflagging at least six and possibly as many at 10 tankers, saying it was helping Iran evade U.S. and European Union sanctions aimed at pressuring Tehran to curb its nuclear programme.
He said Tanzania could face U.S. sanctions for the practice.
"If it is confirmed that the ships flying Tanzania's flag are indeed from Iran, we will take steps to deliberately obliterate the registration," Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Membe told reporters.
Membe called on the United States and the European Union to cooperate with Tanzania to verify the origin of the oil tankers flying the east African country's flag.
Berman said the tankers were owned by the National Iranian Tanker Company.
"Tanzania is taking this investigation very seriously to verify whether or not Iranian ships are really using our flag," Membe said.
On Wednesday, Tanzania's neighbor Kenya cancelled an agreement to import 4 million metric tons (4.41 million tons) of Iranian crude oil per year because of sanctions against Iran.
(Reporting by Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala; Editing by David Clarke and Alessandra Rizzo)