Panama’s shipping registry says it has withdrawn its flag from 136 vessels linked to Islamic Republic in the last four years, denying claims it is knowingly helping Iran violate sanctions.
"The Panamanian registry canceled 136 ships in which their direct link with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) was proven," Panama's Maritime Authority (AMP), said in a statement late on Tuesday. According to the US Treasury, the NIOC has strong links with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is coordinating the country’s sanctions evasion campaign.
An AMP spokesperson said that one-fifth of the 678 ships for which the registry withdrew flags for various reasons since 2019 were Iran-linked, adding "Panamanian authorities maintain a close relationship with the US secretary of the Treasury and other authorities of the United States.
Providing its flag to some 8,650 ships, the AMP runs the world’s largest vessel registry with 16 percent of the global fleet. It denied failing to act on evidence that tankers operating under its flag had shipped Iranian crude oil in contravention of US sanctions, reacting to allegations by United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which seeks to prevent the Islamic Republic from becoming a nuclear-armed regional superpower.
On Monday, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is a member of UANI, called on Washington to pressure Panama to stop "helping" Tehran to evade sanctions.
Shipments of Iranian crude were much higher in 2022 than in 2019 and 2020, when US sanctions had a greater impact. Iran boosted illicit shipments to China from late 2020 as Joe Biden got elected US president and pledged to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, the JCPOA.
Earlier in the month, Iranian navy commander Rear Admiral Shahram Irani said Tehran is planning to extend its area of operation to the Panama Canal that divides South and North America.