Sun, Jul 14, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Panama to pull flag from more vessels

CLEANING HOUSE?Dozens of vessels have been removed from the world’s largest shipping fleet, including a ship at the center of a British-Iranian dispute in Gibraltar


Panama will withdraw its flag from more vessels that breach sanctions and international legislation, the country’s maritime authority told reporters, following the removal of about 60 ships linked to Iran and Syria from the Panamanian registry in the past few months.

After the reimposition of sanctions on Iran by Washington last year, then-Panamanian president Juan Carlos Varela gave the green light to remove a fleet of 59 tankers from the country’s registry, two sources close to the decision said.

Most of those vessels were owned by Iranian state-run companies, but they also included ships linked to oil deliveries to Syria, the sources added.

A separate supertanker, the Grace 1, earlier this month made its way to Gibraltar, where it was seized by British Royal Marines on suspicion of breaching sanctions against Syria.

The vessel was fully loaded with crude suspected to be bound for Syria’s Banyas refinery, Gibraltar authorities said.

The vessel arrived in Gibraltar showing the Panama name on its hull, but the Panamanian government later said that it had been removed from its registry on May 29.

“Panama will maintain its flag withdrawal policy,” Panamanian Maritime Authority Merchant Marine Directorate Director-General Rafael Cigarruista told reporters in an e-mailed statement.

“Our intention is to improve our fleet’s percentage of compliance, not only regarding sanctions by international organizations, but also Panama’s current legislation and maritime security rules,” he added.

He did not provide details on coming action or targeted fleets.

The exact process leading up to the detention of the Grace 1 remains unclear.

Spain, which does not recognize Britain’s sovereignty over Gibraltar, said that it would study whether Britain’s actions infringed on its territorial water claims.

Iran on Friday called on Britain to immediately release the Grace 1 and warned of reciprocal measures after three Iranian vessels on Thursday tried to block a British-owned vessel passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

As the US seeks to increase pressure on Iran, Panama has said that it is trying to maintain its registry clean from sanctioned ships and companies involved in wrongdoing.

Under international law, every merchant ship must be registered with a country, known as its flag state, which has jurisdiction over the vessel and is responsible for safety inspections and checking the crew’s working conditions.

When a vessel loses its flag, it typically triggers loss of insurance and classification if it does not immediately find another flag.

Panama has the largest shipping fleet in the world with almost 7,100 vessels registered, data from specialized firm Vessels Value showed.

The Central American country offers foreign vessel owners easy registration, the ability to employ foreign labor and does not tax the income of the foreign owners.

Even being the world’s largest, the registry has seen a decrease in its number of vessels from more than 8,000 in 2017.

Liberia now has almost 3,800 registered ships, followed by the Marshall Islands with 4,100, the Vessels Value data showed.

Experts said that an outdated and slow mechanism for registering vessels in Panama compared with other flag countries is the culprit of the falling number.

Panama, which this year announced that it would improve the payment mechanism for its registry to speed up the process, is also withdrawing its flag more frequently since the US administration started putting pressure on allied countries to help enforcing unilateral sanctions, the experts added.

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