Iran, Tuvalu, and Oil

Anyone who works with sanctions monitoring most likely hates ships. Their names are so common that the ships’ names routinely cause false positives. (My software has a button to exclude ships’ names, but I often forget to activate that feature.) Now the Iranian oil sanctions program is highlighting some issues with ships.

The tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is prepared to re-flag a fleet of National Iranian Tanker Co. vessels to operate under Tuvalu’s ship registry.  From a personal perspective, it will likely mean more ship names in the databases. Fortunately, my company doesn’t deal with ships so it will only affect me when I forget to select the right option.

On a global scale, it may be an effective way to hide ownership and get cash to Iran. There is still the problem of moving the cash through the global financial system.

Rep. Howard Berman, the ranking member of the House Foreign Relations Committee wrote a letter to Willy Telavi, prime minister of Tuvalu, to cancel the registry.

It is my understanding that the Government of Tuvalu has permitted the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) to reflag as many as 22 vessels under the Tuvalu ship registry, allowing them to remain under NITC ownership and continuing to transport Iran’s crude oil exports. This has the effect of assisting the Iranian regime in evading U.S. and EU sanctions and generating additional revenues for its nuclear weapons program and its support for international terrorism.

It would be profoundly disappointing to me if your government has acted in contravention of the broad international coalition that is working together to use peaceful means, including economic sanctions, to change the threatening behavior of the Iranian regime.

Prior to selling its soul to Iran, Tuvalu was mostly known for its strong position on global warning. The county is small and flat. At just 26 square kilometers Tuvalu is the fourth smallest country in the world, larger only than the Vatican City at 0.44 square kilometers, Monaco at 1.98square kilometers and its neighbor Nauru at 21 square kilometers. At its highest, Tuvalu is only 4.8 meters above sea level. A dramatic rise in sea level could make the country inhabitable.

Why would such an environmentally fragile country help a rogue nation? Tuvalu has been looking for a place to re-settle its inhabitants once sea levels rise. It seems unlikely that they would choose Iran for resettlement. I would assume it comes down to cash. I suspect Iran offered a big pile of cash, with some of it going directly to select Tuvalu officials.


Image of Iranian and Tuvalu flags courtesy of crossed flag