Maersk suspends operations in Iran as US sanctions bite

THE world's largest container firm has suspended operations at Iran's biggest ports, potentially disrupting critical food shipments as it complies with tightening United States sanctions.

Maersk manages several large refrigerated ships and container vessels that transport food to the country, including wheat, rice and bananas from Asia.

Shipments could be delayed for weeks as Maersk adjusts its operations in the Middle East.

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The US last week blacklisted the Iranian company Tidewater Middle East and prohibited US companies from any transactions with the port operator, which manages more than 90 per cent of the country's container operations.

"Maersk Line is committed to complying with all relevant foreign trade controls and sanctions programmes," said Morten Engelstoft, chief operating officer for Maersk Line in a statement.

"In this connection, Maersk Line has decided to cease acceptance of, business to and from the Iranian ports of Bandar Abbas, Bandar Khomeini and Asaluyeh."

Mr Engelstoft declined to specify how much cargo would be affected by the closure of its operations.

Maersk operates in other Iranian ports and could also divert shipments to Dubai, partnering with other companies not bound by US sanctions aimed at curtailing Iran's alleged nuclear weapons programme.

"This does leave a challenge for foodstuffs when we can't transport to those ports. That challenge will need to be resolved," Mr Engelstoft said.

The sanctions are expected to force other shippers with business in the US to avoid Bandar Abbas and other port facilities managed by Tidewater Middle East, which Washington suspects is run by the Revolutionary Guards.

Tidewater-managed ports have been used to export arms in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, the US Treasury said last week. International sanctions are aimed at curtailing Iran's alleged nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Engelstoft said a number of other shipping lines have also suspended their operations at Tidewater's ports, but declined to name them.

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