Those seals of approval are needed by ships seeking entry into most of the world’s ports, and members of Congress are trying to tighten sanctions on Iran by forcing the certification firms to choose between doing business in the United States or in Iran.
Det Norske Veritas (DNV), a leading ship-certification firm with 18 to 20 employees in Iran, is closing its office there, ending its inspections of Iranian vessels and sending “termination notices” to 15 to 20 international oil rigs that are drilling in Iranian waters with DNV certification.
“Just looking at the political landscape and the political risk, we certainly don’t see it as a growth area, and we don’t want to be doing business with countries that don’t match with our own value statements,” DNV spokesman Blaine Collins said. “So it was time to do this.” He said DNV thinks it has complied with international sanctions.
U.S. lawmakers have seized upon DNV and a handful of similar firms as a new tool for tightening economic screws on Iran because of concern that the Middle East country might be building a nuclear weapon. Over the weekend, Iran’s news agencies said the nation’s military had downed a U.S. surveillance drone, heightening tensions. Oil analysts say worries that sanctions might choke off Iranian supplies are propping up oil prices, which remain above $100 a barrel despite economic weakness in Europe and the United States.
Working on behalf of governments, a small number of firms — known as classification societies — provide certifications, which vessels need to obtain insurance. In the United States, the Coast Guard delegates inspections to these firms.
“Without certification by a respected classification society, it is difficult — if not impossible — for a vessel to secure insurance or gain entry to a major international port,” Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) said. “In short, without the endorsement of a classification society, a vessel does not have a ‘license to trade’ in the world market.”
The U.S.-based American Bureau of Shipping dropped its classification of vessels owned or operated by the Iranian government in 1979, during the revolution there. In September 2009, the company also dropped its certification of 16 international oil rigs that were drilling in Iranian waters after the U.S. Treasury “clarified its policy” on sanctions “in response to an inquiry from ABS,” the company’s vice president for external affairs, Jean Gould, said in an e-mail.
However, other firms — notably Lloyd’s Register, Bureau Veritas and Germanischer Lloyd — continue to provide services to Iranian and other vessels working in Iranian ports or waters.