DUBAI - Bolivia is poised to strike fifteen vessels linked to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines off its shipping register just weeks after IRISL found Bolivian replacements for their Maltese and Cypriot flags.
IRISL, its many subsidiaries and their dozens of ships have been sanctioned by the United States, United Nations and the European Union for their suspected role in transporting military equipment for Tehran.
Merchant ships need a flag from national ship registries to gain access to most of the world's ports and many fly those of other countries - especially Panama, Liberia, the Bahamas, Malta and Cyprus - to avoid paying taxes in their home countries.
Despite a 2010 UN resolution on dealing with Iranian government front companies, until recently Maltese flags still fluttered at the masts of 48 of 144 IRISL vessels identified by the EU, while Cypriot colors flew above 12.
IRISL plays a complex cat-and-mouse game by frequently
shifting the official registered owners, flags and names of
vessels in an attempt to conceal their connection to the firm
Washington and Brussels say is a key supply network for what
they suspect is an Iran nuclear weapons programme.