Iran’s Giant Super-Tanker Fleet Eyes Western Waters

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Iranian shipping company NITC says its in talks with U.K. marine insurers

 

Iran is hoping to sail its expanded fleet of super tankers, including 20 China-built vessels like the very large crude carrier pictured here, back into western waters if sanctions are lifted after a nuclear deal with global powers. Photo: Associated Press

By

Benoît Faucon

Updated July 2, 2015 11:04 a.m. ET

TEHRAN—Iran’s biggest oil shipping company has amassed theworld’s largest fleet of super tankers and is in talks to sail back into western waters should the Islamic Republic strike a nuclear deal, according to senior officials.

NITC, the privatized Iranian shipping company, says it has 42 very large crude carriers, known as VLCCs, after buying 20 such China-built vessels in the past 2½ years. It is the first time the company has disclosed the size of its VLCC fleet which it expanded as sanctions cut off access to European-insured vessels,

“No other company in the world owns that number of VLCCs,” said Capt. Nasrollah Sardashti, NITC’s commercial director, in an interview in the Iranian capital. VLCCs can carry 2 million barrels of oil each.

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    NITC’s biggest rivals all list fewer ships, and one London-based analyst who tracks oil-tanker fleets, said he also believes NITC has the largest fleet. Competitors such as Mitsui O.S.K Lines and Nippon Yusen Kaisha NPNYY -0.54 % of Japan and Belgium’s Euronav EURN 1.12 % NV all confirmed owning fewer. No one could be reached at the National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia, but the company says on its website that it owns 31 super tankers.

    Iran was forced to rely more on NITC, the former state-owned shipping company, to transport crude oil after Europe imposed sanctions on Iran and banned insurers from covering ships carrying the Iranian crude.

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    U.S. and European sanctions took a toll on Iran’s exports, cutting them in half since 2012. But Iran still had buyers in Asian countries like China and South Korea, where NITC ships carried oil.

    ‘No other company in the world owns that number of VLCCs’

    —Nasrollah Sardashti, NITC’s commercial director

    As Iran and world powers close in on a deal that would lift sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, Tehran has been seeking to build ties with European companies that have traditionally traded with the Persian Gulf country.

    Ali Akbar Safaei, the managing director of the NITC, said in an interview that the company is in talks with insurance companies that are part of London’s International Group of P&I Clubs—a form of oil-shipping insurance coverage that pools insurers’ resources to cover high risks—as the company seeks to speed up its return to Europe.

    “We have resumed our connections with partners in the maritime field” in the EU, he said. “All conditions are there to call at European ports” when sanctions are lifted.

    ‘We have resumed our connections with [EU] partners in the maritime field... All conditions are there to call at European ports [when sanctions are lifted].’

    —NITC Managing Director Ali Akbar Safaei

    Mr. Safaei also mentioned contacts with European safety-rating agencies, shipping logistics agencies and finance houses.

    In addition to industrywide sanctions on Iran’s oil industry, the EU also banned dealings with NITC, though a European court deemed the decision illegal and “unreasonable” last year. But the EU subsequently reinstated sanctions against the company.

    Mr. Safaei said a team of experts working for the company is now assessing the monetary value of the losses caused by sanctions and “then we will decide the course of action.”