09222014Mon

Iranian ship back home after Sri Lankan escape: data

By Daniel Fineren

DUBAI (Reuters) - An Iranian-flagged cargo ship that fled Sri Lankan waters after weeks of detention by the island nation's navy has arrived back in Iran, according to ship-tracking data published by Reuters.

The Sri Lankan navy fired warning shots in early January to prevent the MV Amina from leaving its waters, acting on a court order obtained by Germany's DVB Bank in pursuit of debts it said were unpaid.

Days later however the vessel sailed away from the island in rough seas, the navy said.

The Amina, formerly called Shere, is managed by Tehran-based Rahbaran Omid Darya Ship Management, which the European Union and United States have said is a front for Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), Iran's biggest cargo carrier.

IRISL has faced Western sanctions for years based on accusations of transporting weapons, a charge it denies.

After sailing out of Sri Lankan waters the Amina vanished from ship-tracking systems off the southwest coast of India. It arrived back in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas on Friday where it has dropped anchor near two other ships which DVB Bank has previously tried to seize, tracking data shows.

The Amina was seized in December after DVB obtained an order on December 12 from the Colombo High Court to hold the vessel. Court documents showed that DVB Bank sought to recover millions of dollars in unpaid debts.

Amina is one of four Iranian bulk ships DVB has been trying to seize. An Iranian-owned dry bulk ship called Uppercourt has been held in the northern Chinese cargo port of Qinhuangdao since November.

Two other vessels that DVB Bank has previously tried to seize, the Tongham and Artin, are also anchored off Bandar Abbas, a key Iranian port near the Strait of Hormuz.

The Artin, previously called Vobster, sailed away from Qinhuangdao in early November, arriving back in Iran in mid-December.

IRISL has tried to dodge sanctions by changing its flags, ship names, and setting up front companies, the U.S. Treasury and the EU have said.

(Reporting by Daniel Fineren; editing by Andrew Roche)

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