Hong Kong detains ship linked to Iran

AFP , Thursday 23 Dec 2010

Hong Kong has detained a cargo ship linked to an Iranian shipping firm at the centre of new US sanctions aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear and weapons activities, a report said Thursday.

The South China Morning Post said authorities in the southern Chinese city detained the Decretive, a Maltese-flagged container vessel, on November 14 over a debt dispute with several European banks.

The city's marine department could not be immediately reached to confirm the report.

Hong Kong officials acted after moves by four banks, led by the German-based HSH Nordbank, over accusations of loan defaults totalling 268 million US dollars, the report said.

A lawsuit filed in Hong Kong's High Court confirmed the German bank is suing the unnamed owners of the vessel, but it did not give details on the amount being sought. The bank's lawyers could not immediately be reached.

The Post, citing unnamed sources, reported that the target of the dispute is the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), the guarantor of bank loans which funded the Decretive's construction in 2008.

The ship -- currently moored off Hong Kong's southern coast -- is one of five vessels linked to IRISL that the European banks want seized to collect on alleged loan defaults, it added.

The Iranian shipping firm is among the entities included in new US sanctions against Tehran announced this week, which have targeted the Islamic republic's Revolutionary Guard and its energy and shipping sectors.

Washington has accused IRISL of transporting missile-related and other military cargo for Tehran, in defiance of sanctions.

The Decretive's detention comes after Singapore authorities impounded three of the firm's vessels in September over allegations that it had defaulted on 210 million US dollars in loans from a French bank.

The firm's chairman told Tehran's state-owned Press TV that the bank improperly called in the loan in response to UN sanctions.

Iran is under four sets of UN sanctions for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, the sensitive process which can be used to make nuclear fuel or, in highly extended form, the core of an atom bomb.

The Islamic republic rejects claims by the West and Israel that its uranium enrichment programme masks a covert bid to acquire nuclear weapons, maintaining that it is developing nuclear energy solely for peaceful purposes.

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