OFAC Issues Advisory Alert to Shippers and Freight Forwarders

Today, the United States Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued an advisory alert to shippers, importers/exporters and freight forwarders worldwide, warning them of the practices of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Shipping Lines (IRISL) which have been used to evade U.S. sanctions. OFAC delineated a number of practices engaged in by IRISL that U.S. shippers, importers/exporters, and freight forwarders need to be aware of. These practices are as following:

(1) The use of container prefixes registered to another carrier. For example, IRISL has used the prefixes IRSU and XBIU, both of which belong to other carriers. IRISL also used the ALXU prefix which is a fabricated prefix.

(2) omitting or listing invalid, incomplete or false container prefixes in shipping container numbers; and/or

(3) naming non-existent ocean vessels in shipping documents.

Shipping documents utilizing one or more of these practices may be used to facilitate IRISL’s activities and the financing of transactions involving cargo shipped on blocked vessels. This includes through letters of credit. As readers of this blog know, transactions involving U.S.-sanctioned entities through the United States or by U.S. persons are prohibited unless there is a specific license authorization obtained from OFAC.

OFAC has warned all persons to exercise increased due diligence to ensure they do not mistakenly process transactions which are prohibited due to a failure to detect the aforementioned IRISL tactics. The IRISL is actively attempting to evade U.S. sanctions, as such, U.S. parties should be conscious and wary of such practices.

As a matter or best practices, all shippers, importers/exporters, and freight forwarders should be on alert as to fabricated vessel names in trade documents and should double check the legitimacy of entities with which they are unfamiliar. Another option is to verify the accuracy of container numbers. Again this is particularly true, if a party is unfamiliar with the issuer of the shipping documents. For those seeking to verify container numbers please check the link here.

What is interesting about this alert is that it comes a mere day after the removal of a number of IRISL vessels from the Specially Designated Nationals List, commonly referred to as the OFAC SDN List. No official announcement has been made regarding the reasoning behind the delisting of a number of IRISL vessels, however, it may have come through formal SDN removal proceedings under 31 C.F.R. 501.807. Regardless, as a matter of best practices shippers, importers/exporters, and freight forwarders should make sure to check the OFAC SDN List daily to make sure they have the most current information.

The author of this blog is Erich Ferrari, an attorney specializing in OFAC matters. If you have any questions please contact him at 202-280-6370 or ferrari@ferrari-legal.com.

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