Ship of Sanctioned by US Iranian Company Spotted in Bulgaria’s Burgas

Nikolay Marchenko

The ship “Shahr E Kord”, owned by Iran’s maritime transport company, was moored from 18 to 20 April in the Bulgarian port of Burgas. This was established by a joint investigation by Bivol in partnership with the online international security journal De Re Militari.
The owner of the ship is a company that is on the US sanction list against Iran. This is the State-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), known as IRISL Group, IRI Shipping Lines or ARYA Shipping Company. The company is registered in the capital of Iran at No.37, Aseman Tower, Sayyade Shirazee Square, Pasdaran Ave., Tehran, Iran, P.O, Box 19395 – 1311.

The company is identified as one of the main subcontractors of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Defense Ministry and its main special service – the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. This company’s ships have been detected on numerous occasions to carry weapons, ammunition and other cargo for the needs of the Iranian army and the country’s defense sector.

On April 18, the ship was intercepted passing by the coast of Turkey, via the Bosporus Strait on the way to the Burgas port. This vessel has started its voyage from the Syrian port of Latakia on the Mediterranean.
Currently, there is no official information on what it had been transporting to Burgas and what exactly it had loaded at the Bulgarian port in the period April 18-20, 2019. According to analysts, it is quite possible that the cargo is light weapons from Bulgaria or other Balkan countries.

“IRISL is under US sanctions for supplying logistics to the Iranian Ministry of Defense,” the co-founder of De Re Militari, Ruslan Trad, commented for Bivol.

Since recently, the US sanctions include the Iranian Guard, which also uses the State-owned IRISL to transport arms. Because of this, the company was included in the sanctions list.

“Our information is that Iran is picking up light weapons, ammunition, and Kalashnikov’s from Bulgaria, produced in the weapons factory in Kazanlak,” said Ruslan Trad.

According to him, there have been signals of similar dealings in the past as well; the last time was in 2018:
“Then the Iranians also tried to carry weapons from Bulgaria. They were stored around Pavel Banya. So, it would not be a surprise if they were transporting weapons in recent days,” the journalist says. According to him, Tehran is in search of “new locations” for similar deals after US President Donald Trump introduced the sanctions against Iran.

Ruslan Trad believes that the Bulgarian defense sector producers had been maintaining without interruption their business contacts with Iran, therefore they should have been aware of what type of a company is the one whose ship was first detected in the Bosporus and then at the Bulgarian port.

“I am sure they know where this ship is going – probably big factories.”

It is quite possible that even the special services of the European Union (EU) and Bulgaria are aware of the deals, the journalist thinks.

“The problem is that the EU is trying to bypass the sanctions, so I do not believe there will be any reaction in this case.”

Our checks in the Marine Traffic site showed that the ship was in Burgas on April 18 and 19. However, on the morning of April 20, it left Bulgarian waters and headed for the port of Misrata, Libya. At the time of our publication, it was in the waters of the Aegean Sea.

Misrata is under the control of the UN-recognized Libyan government in Tripoli, which formed a Western Union military alliance with the support of Turkey, Qatar and Italy.

These days Misrata is under a massive attack by the armies of Marshal Khalifa Haftar (who controls East Libya with the cities of Benghazi and Tobruk), backed by Russia and Saudi Arabia. According to our sources, the Iranians, as allies of Qatar, which is active in Libya, are sending military assistance in the form of weapons and ammunition to Misrata so that the port can withstand the attacks.

“Bulgaria, for its part, has a close relationship with Qatar and also with Iran – so any such cargo will not be a surprise,” explains Ruslan Trad

“What is carried with this ship is not exactly known, it is hardly a good thing.”

Intergovernmental meeting with Iran: no weapons?

An interesting coincidence was detected by Bivol in the days of the vessel’s mooring near the Bulgarian port – during these same days, the 19th session of the Intergovernmental Bulgarian-Iranian Commission for Economic, Industrial, Trade and Technical Cooperation took place in Sofia.

The session also included a business forum between the entrepreneurs of Iran and Bulgaria, organized by the government of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. On the site of the Ministry of Transport, Information Technology and Communications (MTITC) one can see not one but three press releases on April 18-19 meetings held with the participation of Transport Minister Rosen Zhelyazkov and his Iranian counterpart – the Minister of the Road and Urban Development of Iran Mohammad Eslami.

According to the press releases, “more than 60 Bulgarian and 40 Iranian companies took part in the business forum between the two countries”; “Iran’s 80 million-dollar market and key geographic location are the starting point for bilateral co-operation” and “Bulgaria and Iran are considering a direct airline and resuming the bus transport of passengers”.

According to Rosen Zhelyazkov, “among the sectors in which our country sees future potential for trade cooperation with Iran, are the chemical, pharmaceutical, food and automotive industries and the information technology.”
“The development of transport, transport infrastructure and the improvement of the interaction between modes of transportation are essential for our bilateral relations,” further said the Minister of Transport.

In the field of maritime transport, “in order to promote bilateral cooperation and the exchange of seafarers on merchant ships”, the two sides negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding on Mutual Recognition of Licensing Certificates”.

The “possibility of resumption” of the Joint Energy Commission and the Joint Gas Working Group had been discussed as well.

However, the defense sector is not mentioned in the official speeches of the two ministers, or in the three media press releases of the MTITC on the results of the two-day meeting between the governments and the business sector of the two countries.


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