WASHINGTON - A prominent US lawmaker has 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 US sanctions.

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.

As many as 22 ships owned by the National Iranian Tanker Company have been registered in Tuvalu, said Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

Berman said he believes reflagging the tankers could be deemed as "sanctionable activity" under US rules, and asked Telavi to cancel the registry of all NITC vessels.

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger