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Iran tanker firm NITC can withstand sanctions: official

Thursday, 23 February 2012 | 00:00
Iran's biggest tanker operator NITC will shortly settle loans owed to French Bank BNP Paribas and is confident it can weather growing turmoil in the sector and the threat of sanctions, the group's new chief said.
Industry sources told Reuters in November that NITC was in talks with BNP Paribas over the repayment of hundreds of millions of dollars in loans using Iranian funds held in South Korea.
"This is a voluntary repayment which is in progress and will be settled soon," Hamid Behbahani, who took the helm as chairman and chief executive in late January, told Reuters in an emailed interview. He declined to comment on the amount outstanding.
Behbahani, 71, formerly Iran's road and transportation minister as well as being a university professor, is a close ally of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He denied that his new post was a political appointment.
"It is a private company and obviously privately run. Accordingly it is the board of directors who decide on the appointment of the chairman and CEO," he said.
"Shipping is an international and borderless activity. Placing restrictions on banking transactions, insurance and other business sectors related to shipping will have an impact on the whole world shipping operation including NITC," Behbahani said.
Behbahani, who has a doctorate in transportation and traffic engineering from the University of Florida, has also been a professor at Iran's University of Science and Technology.
NITC lost its ship insurance cover from European providers last year due to western sanctions imposed on Iran. It secured alternative insurance cover mainly in Asia and also in Iran.
"Naturally and like any other prudent owner we are to insure that our ships, which are valued at billions of dollars, are provided with adequate cover at all times," Behbahani said.
"We, though deprived from those markets under political influences, have been able to have all of our ships covered adequately and properly which have also been accepted by our clients."
NITC, which has a fleet of 40 oil tankers and is one of the world's biggest transporters of crude, has said it has secured financing for new tankers on order from its own budget and facilities from European, Korean and Chinese banks.
Asked if its other banks were looking to get loans back, Behbahani said: "We have not heard anything as such from them up to now and we do not expect that the market fluctuations will be of any impact on our agreements."
"Though the market does not look very good these days, up to now we have no intention to change our plan," he said, referring to orders placed for new tankers.
Source: Reuters
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