- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Many Americans understandably look at Iran’s nuclear weapons program and its support of terrorist groups in the Middle East as problems to be solved by Washington and, of course, the broader international community.

It may come as a surprise, however, to learn that some U.S. businesses are indirectly playing a part in Iran’s attempts to acquire a nuclear weapon and its sponsoring of terrorist groups like Hamas - groups publicly mourning the death of Osama bin Laden.

Consider the French-based shipping giant CMA CGM. This company has its U.S. headquarters in Norfolk, Va. What makes CMA CGM so special is that it has become the de facto shipping carrier of choice for Iran and other terrorist states, such as North Korea, for evading international sanctions.

This was highlighted in March when the Israeli navy stopped the Victoria, a cargo ship carrying a 50-ton shipment of weapons, including sophisticated land-to-sea missiles, destined for Hamas in Gaza. Upon seizure of the weapons, CMA CGM quickly attempted to absolve itself of any responsibility by proclaiming that the “ship’s manifests do not show any cargo in contravention [of] international regulations.”


This is not the first time CMA CGM has fallen victim to a false cargo declaration. In October, Nigerian authorities seized 13 shipping containers carrying artillery shells, explosives and rifle ammunition labeled as glass wool and pallets of stone. The vessel MV CMA CGM Everest had picked up the containers from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

In July 2009, the United Arab Emirates stopped another CMA CGM shipment of weapons from North Korea destined for Iran in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874, which bans all North Korean arms exports. This time, CMA CGM apparently was fooled (again) by a false manifesto declaring the shipments to be “oil boring machines.”

The international security implications of these incidents are obvious, as is the need for private-sector companies like CMA CGM to stop helping serial proliferators such as North Korea and Iran from arming the world. In the case of the North Korean shipment to Iran, it is believed that it also contained parts for the BM-25, a nuclear-capable missile based on original Russian technology with a presumed range of 2,400 miles.

This puts Western Europe and Moscow, not to mention Israel and U.S. forces in the Gulf, well within Iran’s cross hairs. It is irresponsible for CMA CGM to be doing business with a brutal regime that threatens world peace, and it is even worse that the business it is doing is facilitating the worst of Iran’s behavior.

Iran’s strategy of using private shipping lines to proliferate weapons is by no means a new one, which is all the more reason for private corporations like CMA CGM to stop doing business there. Recently, the United Nations, as well as the United States, the European Union, Australia, Japan and South Korea all imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL).

It is also worth noting that of the 123 IRISL ships originally blacklisted by Washington in 2008, 73 are now recorded as being owned and operated by other companies, and many others have undergone numerous name changes.

In commenting on the activities of IRISL, former Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart A. Levey remarked, “IRISL not only facilitates the transport of cargo for U.N.-designated proliferators, it also falsifies documents and uses deceptive schemes to shroud its involvement in illicit commerce.”

Iran’s deceptive ways do not give private shipping companies a free pass or absolve them of responsibility. Indeed, they reinforce why the companies should stop doing business there. More broadly, the U.S. Congress should hold hearings to determine exactly how and why such lapses occur, particularly because CMA CGM has been the recipient of lucrative U.S. government contracts in the past.

The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia should immediately launch an investigation into why CMA CGM’s compliance record is so abysmal.

Americans in Virginia and across the country can lend their voices to this effort and let corporate executives in Norfolk know that CMA CGM’s irresponsible business in Iran is unacceptable. The danger of Iran is international in scope, but by acting locally, it’s possible to put pressure on CMA CGM to change course.

It is to be expected that Tehran and Pyongyang will go to extraordinary lengths to escape the ever-tightening noose of sanctions, and those maneuvers need to be anticipated. No responsible company should be doing business in Iran, particularly those that have a record of being duped as often as CMA CGM.

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