Japanese ship certifier to end Iran ties
(Reuters) - A Japanese ship classification society will close its Tehran office, becoming the latest firm to face pressure by a U.S. lobby group to end dealings with Iran as backers of Western sanctions pile pressure on the Islamic Republic.
Japan's ClassNK said it did not verify safety and environmental standards for Iranian ships, but was nevertheless pulling out of Iran.
"We at ClassNK have already voluntarily refrained from activities in Iran, and we have no vessels with Iranian flags, so we do not think that our current activities are running foul of the Iran sanctions," a senior ClassNK official told Reuters on Tuesday.
"But considering the environment that surrounds us as of late, there were talks on this inside the organisation, and we have officially decided to close our Tehran office."
The move follows a call last week by U.S. group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) to cut ties with Iran.
A targeted campaign by UANI, which includes former U.S. ambassadors on its board and is funded by private donations, has led Germany's Germanischer Lloyd and France's Bureau Veritas to drop their classification cover for Iranian shipping firms.
Classification societies are hired by ship owners to regularly check that vessels, from their hull and propulsion systems to the machinery and appliances, meet international safety standards. Under international conventions, a classification is required for a ship to call at major ports.
While UANI acknowledged ClassNK did not provide formal certification services to Iranian vessels, it said the Japanese firm maintained an office in Tehran, which "lends important symbolic support to the regime".
UANI added that ClassNK also provided technical certificates for two Iranian firms that did business with Iranian shipping companies. The two Iranian firms provide distressed radio beacons, which transmit internationally recognised emergency codes and location data.
"By providing services to these companies, ClassNK is directly facilitating the operations of Iran's shipping sector, an action that enables the Iranian government to circumvent multilateral sanctions that have been imposed to prevent it from further developing its illegal nuclear weapons program," UANI said.
The ClassNK official did not refer to the two Iranian firms but said it would close its office as soon as possible.
"The Japanese government in particular requires a notice of two to three weeks (in advance), and we expect to do so in August," the official said.
"Because it was not actually engaging in activities, we expect no major damage to our business."
UANI, which is opposed to Iran's nuclear work, on Tuesday welcomed the move.
"It appears that ClassNK has made the correct decision. We applaud ClassNK for closing its Tehran office, and urge it to quickly and completely follow through on today's announcement to end its work in Iran," a UANI spokesman said.
Earlier this month, a South Korean ship classifier sidestepped calls by UANI to halt its verification work in Iran, saying it was concerned that vessel safety and marine environment protection could be compromised by political issues.