With container traffic in slowdown in most areas of the world, the lifting of Iranian sanctions does at least offer a ray of hope to carriers, according to global shipping consultancy Drewry.
Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama secured the support of enough Democratic senators to ensure the Iran nuclear deal put together in July will survive any Congressional vote, thereby removing a potential roadblock towards the lifting of sanctions imposed on Iran by the United Nations, the U.S. and European Union, Drewry says.
Much political work is still to be done, but when sanctions are relaxed, the Iranian economy will be given a significant boost, which Drewry believes should release the pent-up demand for containerised goods in the 80 million-strong population eager to spend on goods previously denied them.
The port of Shahid Rajaee (commonly known as Bandar Abbas) is the largest of Iran’s container ports – accounting for some 90% of all Iran’s container handling – but it saw volumes decline sharply after the U.S. Treasury blacklisted its operator Tidewater Middle East Co. in June 2011 for alleged ties to the banned Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and for allegedly facilitating illicit shipments, according to Drewry.
According to Tidewater, the U.S. government has now removed the company from its sanctions list and carriers are returning. Wan Hai and PIL led the way by re-adding Bandar Abbas to their joint China-Middle East service (CMS) after a two-year break in July 2014 and more recently the port has been reinstated on five loops ex Asia, with more expected to follow, Drewry says.
Tidewater has recently released a statement saying that it will soon begin “serious negotiations” with foreign interests for new trade.
The operator may face competition as DP World is reportedly interested in starting operations in Iran, but whatever the competitive environment post-sanctions more investment on infrastructure and capacity after years of under-utilisation will be required to achieve its full container potential.