The US has ramped up pressure on Iran's ability to export oil this week, identifying Tehran's main tanker concern and exposing dozens of its vessels as government-controlled entities.
In the latest set of measures designed to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the US Treasury identified 58 NITC vessels and 27 of its affiliates as extensions of the state, which would undermine Iran's attempts to use renamed, disguised vessels to evade sanctions, the department said, reported Reuters.
The exposures, which also included naming what Washington said were four front companies for Iran's state oil enterprise, would help countries and foreign companies comply with Western penalties against Iran, it was claimed.
A US Government official said the measures would have some impact on Iran's ability to sell oil. "It will make it that much more difficult for Iran to deceive potential purchasers about the origin of the oil," the official told reporters, including Reuters.
US companies and Americans are already prohibited from doing business with entities controlled by Iran's government.
NITC changed the names and flags of many of its tankers ahead of a European Union ban on Iranian oil imports. It was thought that some tankers were moved from the Maltese and Cypriot registries to Tuvalu and Tanzanian flags.
NITC’s fleet has become in the spotlight this month, as new European Union sanctions have cut off access to the London-based ship insurance market, putting Iran off-limits to almost every major tanker operator.
"We will continue to ratchet up the pressure so long as Iran refuses to address the international community's well-founded concerns about its nuclear program," Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen said in a statement.
The US sanctions have limited Iran's major trading partners from buying Iranian crude. The EU banned Iranian oil imports, as well as providing insurance for vessels carrying Iranian oil from 1st July.
Malaysian-based Noor Energy, Petro Suisse, Dubai-based Petro Energy and Hong Kong Intertrade were identified by the US as being controlled, or acting on behalf of the Iranian government. The Treasury said they were acting as front companies for the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and other blacklisted Iranian entities, Reuters said.
US lawmakers said that the US Treasury's action was a move in the right direction but said much more had to be done. "We must continue to increase pressure on the Iranian regime until it verifiably abandons its nuclear weapons programme," said Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who has asked Tuvalu and Tanzania to stop accepting Iranian oil tankers in to their registries.
A senior Senate Republican aide said the administration was finally playing the game correctly by exposing Iranian fronts for sanctions evasion and laying the groundwork for new sanctions legislation that will make any business dealing with such entities illegal.
Four individuals, including an Austrian, who allegedly provided support to Iran's missile programme and an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps official were also blacklisted.
Meanwhile, the Iranian Central Insurance Company has announced that it will offer cover to foreign tankers, which are destined for Iranian ports.
The company's managing director Mohammad Karimi told the IRNA News Agency, the decision has been made to deal with international sanctions against Iran’s oil sector, reported the Baku-based Trend News.
Due to the EU sanctions, Iran will see its oil exports fall by more than 50% this month compared with June, before the sanctions came into force.
European insurers who dominate the maritime sector are also banned from offering cover on Iranian crude.