* Tanzania had been accused of reflagging Iranian tankers
* E.African country says was misled by Dubai-based agent
* Iran hit by sanctions over its nuclear program
DAR ES SALAAM, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Tanzania said a shipping
agent based in Dubai had reflagged 36 Iranian oil tankers with
the Tanzanian flag without the country's knowledge and approval.
Tanzania said it was now in the process of de-registering
the vessels after an investigation into the origin of the ships
concluded they were originally from Iran.
Tanzania launched an investigation last month over
accusations that it had reflagged oil tankers from Iran and
asked the United States and European Union to help it verify the
origin of the tankers flying the east African country's flag.
A report with the investigation's findings was discussed in
the House of Representatives of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous part
of Tanzania late on Friday, and the minutes of that debate were
seen by Reuters late on Saturday.
Reflagging ships masks their ownership, which could make it
easier for Iran to obtain insurance and financing for the
cargoes, as well as find buyers for the shipments without
attracting attention from the United States and European Union.
The National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) changed the names
and flags of many of its oil tankers ahead of the EU ban, part
of sweeping economic measures aimed at pressuring Tehran to end
its nuclear program.
That included swapping Maltese and Cypriot flags for Tuvalu
and Tanzanian ones.
The ships flying Tanzania's flag were re-flagged by
Zanzibar, which has claimed it was misled by its Dubai-based
agent, Philtex, and would end its contract with that firm.
"The government has thoroughly investigated this issue and
established that the Zanzibar Maritime Authority (ZMA) through
our Dubai-based agent, Philtex, registered 36 Iranian crude oil
tankers and containership vessels to fly the Tanzanian flag,"
Zanzibar Vice President Seif Ali Iddi told the assembly.
"The Zanzibar government is in the process of de-registering
the ships and also terminating its agency contract with Philtex
after establishing the truth that these (Iranian) ships are
flying the Tanzanian flag."
Howard Berman, the ranking member of the U.S. House
Committee on Foreign Affairs, had accused Tanzania of reflagging
at least six and possibly as many at 10 tankers, saying it was
helping Iran evade U.S. and European Union sanctions aimed at
pressuring Tehran to curb its nuclear program.
He said Tanzania could face U.S. sanctions for the practice.
Berman has also asked the small South Pacific island nation
Tuvalu to stop reflagging Iranian oil tankers and warned its
government of the risks of running afoul of U.S. sanctions.
TANZANIA TO KEEP IRAN TIES
The U.S. sanctions have kept Iran's major trading partners
from buying Iranian crude. The European Union banned Iranian oil
imports as well as the provision of insurance for vessels
carrying Iranian oil from July 1.
On July 4, Tanzania's neighbour Kenya cancelled an agreement
to import 4 million tons of Iranian crude oil per year because
of sanctions against Iran.
Zanzibar's Iddi said Tanzania would act to de-register the
ships in light of the threat of economic sanctions.
He promised further investigations into how the registration
of the ships was conducted. However, he said Tanzania's ties
with Iran on other issues would remain intact.
Tanzania has previously stated that it supports Iran's
pursuit of a peaceful nuclear program.
The United States has mounted an international campaign
aimed at depriving Iran of oil revenue to pressure it to rein in
its nuclear program, which Tehran maintains is solely for
peaceful purposes but the West suspects is aimed at developing
"The Zanzibar government will also conduct further
investigations to establish how the registration of the ships
was done in the first place," Iddi said.
"Regardless of this incident, our relations with Iran will
continue in other areas."