Iran silent on ship flying Samoan flag

A growing number of international ships are using the Samoan flag to evade detection on the high seas while conducting smuggling operations, new analysis shows.

The latest instance uncovered earlier this month involves a ship apparently linked to the National Iranian Oil Company (N.I.O.C.) changing the flag flown by one of its crude oil tankers to that of Samoa's.

The Samoa Observer sent inquiries to the N.I.O.C. to ask if the ship - the VLCC Dazzle - belongs to them.  No reply was received as of press time.

The case of the ship changing its flag to make it appear as though it originated in Samoa appears to be the latest case of a growing number of Iranian vessels who are using Samoa's flag to evade detection while conducting smuggling operations. 

According to an analysis published earlier this month in Lloyd’s List Maritime Intelligence, the VLCC Dazzle is an Iranian vessel that changed its flag to Samoa's.

The ship doing so is suspected to be a method to evade inspections by patrol boats seeking to enforce sanctions on delivering oil to countries such as Syria. 

Lloyd’s List reports that the “Pacific Island (Samoa) is the latest registry of refuge for tankers shipping Iranian crude amid rising sanctions pressure.”

“Pacific Islands are the latest registry of refuge for tankers shipping Iranian crude amid rising sanctions pressure," the company said. 

There are 41 vessels trading and registered with the Samoa flag according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence data.

Illegal use of foreign flags often helps cargo ships evade inspections on the high seas as they seek to subvert international sanctions. 

The United States last year confiscated four Iranian fuel shipments bound for Venezuela in defiance of American sanctions.

There are no Iranian ships on Samoa’s marine registry. Samoa has a closed ship registry which, Government officials say, make any foreign ship flying Samoa's flag fraudulent. 

Last year, the Ministry of Works Transportation and Infrastructure (M.W.T.I.) Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.) Magele Hoe Viali said Samoa first started to receive reports of overseas ships flying Samoa’s flag in 2017.

He explained that there are only two types of ship registries – an open registry which allows registration of foreign-owned vessels and a closed registry.

Only nationally-owned vessels may register in Samoa.

Samoa has a closed ship registry so it is impossible that an Iranian ship could be registered in Samoa, Magele said.

Any Iranian ship flying the flag of Samoa is doing so illegally, he told the Observer in 2019.

Iranian ships are known to change flags and names of ships so they can evade sanctions. 

Attempts to contact Magele for comment this week have not been returned.

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