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Opinion

Lieberman and Collins: Shipping industry must choose between Iran and the US

Iran thwarts economic sanctions through loopholes in international shipping regulations. 'Classification societies' give certifications (access to ports and international trade) to both Iranian and US vessels. These groups must end their conflicting role, which supports Iranian commerce.

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The major classification societies – numbering only a dozen or so worldwide – maintain personnel in ports around the globe, which allows them to conduct certification-related work wherever a vessel arrives. A classification society might survey vessels of several different countries on any given day, acting as agents for multiple governments.

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This practice becomes troubling when one realizes that several prominent classification societies serve as recognized organizations for both Iran (and other rogue states) and the US, as well as states across Europe. In so doing, these classification societies help further Iranian commerce while simultaneously acting as agents of the US and European governments.

Not only does this dual, conflicting role fly in the face of the intent of international sanctions, it also undermines America’s ability to stop the very actions our sanctions against Iran are designed to address. Clearly, the loophole allowing vessels controlled by sanctioned countries to do business as usual needs to be closed.

We, along with our colleague Mark Begich, Democrat of Alaska, have introduced legislation to put an end to this practice. Our bill, “The Ethical Shipping Inspections Act of 2011,” would prohibit the US from delegating representative authority to classification societies that simultaneously conduct inspection, certification, and related services for Iran, North Korea, North Sudan, or Syria. We believe Europe should take similar action to restrict the operations of classification societies that work in and on behalf of Iran and other rogue countries.

Vessels from rogue states must no longer be free to engage in commerce that is at odds with the will of the international community. Depriving rogue state vessels of certification from major classification societies inhibits their mobility and cuts a contribution to their home states’ economies. It’s time to improve the effectiveness of our sanctions regimes by revoking rogue states’ “license to trade” in the global marketplace.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I) of Connecticut is the chair and Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine is a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

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