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Overseas ships illegally flying Samoan flag 'major concern' for Govt.

Recent reports that foreign ships suspected of evading international law are sailing under Samoan flags is of major concern to the Samoa Government, says the head of the Ministry of Works Transport and Infrastructure (M.W.T.I.).

There were reports this week of Iranian oil tankers raising Samoan flags, in a suspected attempt to evade detection while smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions. 

M.W.T.I. Chief Executive Officer Magele Viali Hoe said: “It is a major concern as these ships illegally flying our flag or using flags of convenience are sometimes reported to be engaged in illegal activities and could tarnish the good name of our country.”

Magele said Samoa first started to receive reports of overseas ships flying Samoa’s flag about two years ago. 

“Samoa has actively liaised with the International Maritime Organisation (a U.N. body) and international maritime authorities, denying the validity of such ships registration on Samoa's Ship Register," he said. 

Samoa is a member of the I.M.O., a specialised agency of the United Nations that is responsible for measures to improve the safety and security of international shipping, and to prevent marine pollution from ships.

In an interview with the Samoa Observer, Magele said that the reports, while troubling, were not new.  

“Since 2017 when incidences of overseas ships flying our flag were reported by international maritime authorities," he said. 

This week Reuters reported that an Iranian cargo carrier Hayan left from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas on June 3 and set sail for Karachi on Pakistan’s coast.

Ship tracking data from maritime risk analysts Windward shows that on June 7 it changed its name to Mehri II and its flag to that of Samoa, as it made its way towards Karachi port.

Six days later, the vessel conducted a ship-to-ship transfer of its unknown cargo further up Pakistan’s coast.

The ship then returned home, changing its flag back to Iran and its name back to Hayan, Reuters reported.

Shipping data also show that a separate Iranian-owned cargo ship, the Ya Haydar, has been sailing around the Gulf and reporting its flag as that of Samoa.

Magele told the Samoa Observer, there are no Iranian ships registered with Samoa’s marine registry. 

“There are two types of ship registry [in] practice in the world," he said. "An open registry where foreign vessels are accepted to be registered on and closed registry where only nationally-owned vessels are registered on.  

“Samoa has a closed ship registry so it is impossible that an Iranian ship could be registered in Samoa."

Assistant C.E.O. of M.W.T.I. Anastacia Amoa-Stowers told Reuters the vessels Hayan or Ya Haydar are not, and have never been listed, nor registered on Samoa’s registry of vessels. 

“Additionally, there have never been any Iranian ships listed on Samoa’s vessel registry previously and at present.”

Magele concluded the M.W.T.I. as Samoa's Maritime Authority and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade are prioritising a message for distribution to all members of the I.M.O: "Samoa has a Closed Ship Registry and any ships found by their maritime authorities to be flying Samoa's flag, is doing so illegally.” 

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