Home/ News / World/  Indian tanker seized by Iran allowed to leave

Tehran/Bangalore: Iran on Thursday allowed an Indian oil tanker to leave Bandar Abbas port where it was detained, AFP news agency reported from Tehran, quoting Fars News Agency.

State-owned Shipping Corp. of India Ltd gave a letter of undertaking to Iran in a last ditch effort to get its tanker released. The ship has been detained in the West Asian country since 12 August on the charge of polluting its waters.

“The boat that was seized following a contamination has been freed after the Indian sailing organization presented the necessary guarantees," said the head of the Iranian ports administration, Attaollah Sadr, who was quoted by Fars News Agency in the AFP report.

Iran has ordered the release of the Indian oil tanker, PTI news agency reported, citing an unnamed foreign ministry official.

Shipping Corp. said it was yet to get any confirmation that the ship had been released and allowed to leave Bandar Abbas. “Our ship is still there," finance director and acting chairman and managing director B.K. Mandal said.

Marine Traffic, a commercial ship-tracking website, showed the vessel, MT Desh Shanti, as still being moored near the port of Bandar Abbas at 8.07pm (India time).

The ship’s departure from the port could have been delayed because Iranian maritime authorities wanted its captain S.S. Cheema to sign a document stating that the tanker had caused a “minor pollution", according to another Shipping Corp. official briefed on the matter. Cheema declined to sign the document, the official said, asking not to be named.

A spokesman for Shipping Corp. declined to comment on this.

Shipping Corp. agreed to give the undertaking for the tanker guaranteeing payment towards clean-up operations if an oil spill is proved, since the ship’s insurer, London-based Steamship Mutual Underwriting Association (Bermuda) Ltd, cannot give a letter of undertaking due to western sanctions against Iran’s nuclear programme, two people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.

Iran says its nuclear programme is intended for peaceful purposes.

Shipping Corp. sent its letter of undertaking to Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization earlier this week.

“Shipping Corp. has given a letter of undertaking to Iran," said a spokesman for the shipping ministry in Delhi. “If pollution is proved, Shipping Corp. will compensate Iran for cleaning up the oil slick."

“By giving the letter of undertaking, Shipping Corp. is providing what the ship’s insurer normally provides in such circumstances," a second Shipping Corp. official said, also on condition of anonymity.

“The ship’s insurer has said they cannot deal with the matter because of sanctions. However, if Shipping Corp. has to pay money for the clean-up, the insurer has said it can arrange for re-imbursement, subject to approval from various authorities in the US and the European Union," the official said.

The Steamship Mutual Underwriting Association could not be reached immediately for comment.

Shipping Corp. had earlier rejected Iran’s demand for a letter of undertaking stating that it was not necessary because its ship had not caused the pollution as claimed by Iran.

By giving the undertaking, Shipping Corp. appears to have buckled under pressure from Iran.

“In order to get the vessel released, we have agreed to whatever Iran has asked for," a third Shipping Corp. official said. He, too, spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The frustration level of the ship’s crew is growing. Their morale is down," he said. The detained oil tanker has 13 officers and 19 general purpose staff on board. The crew is under virtual captivity as they are not allowed to step ashore, the official said.

Mandal declined to discuss the undertaking given by his firm to Iran.

Desh Shanti, a 2004 built double-hull tanker, was detained by Iranian naval authorities on 12 August on allegations of pollution while on her journey from Basra in Iraq to Visakhapatnam on India’s eastern coast carrying crude for state-run oil refiner Hindustan Petroleum Corp. Ltd.

Sadr said on Wednesday that the ship can leave the country after presenting guarantees to the Iranian Ports and Maritime Organization and compensating through its protection and indemnity insurance coverage.

“As soon as the Indian oil tanker provides the necessary guarantees, it can continue its path because technical issues have been specified and the oil tanker has been notified of it," Sadr told Iran’s Fars News Agency on Wednesday.

India and Shipping Corp. have refuted the allegations, backed by satellite pictures of the alleged oil slick, corroborated by the vessel’s position report, its track record based on the Ship Security Alert System, and its course recorder data. Moreover, repeated inspections of the ship by authorities in Iraq, Iran and from India could not establish any deficiency on the ship that could credibly link the tanker to the pollution incident.

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Updated: 05 Sep 2013, 10:23 PM IST
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