Iran’s state-owned shipping company is in advanced talks with Korean shipyard Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. for a $650 million order of container ships and tankers, people involved in the talks said, marking Iran’s return to the international market after a decade.
The deal may be announced as early as this week and is part of plans by Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and Iranian Offshore Oil Co., a subsidiary of state oil company National Iranian Oil Co., to spend a total of up to $2.5 billion to modernize their fleets.
A Hyundai Heavy spokesman said Monday that Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, or IRISL, was in talks with the shipyard over a 10-ship order, but gave no details.
Iranian shipping companies haven’t modernized their fleets since 2006, when the United Nations imposed wide-ranging sanctions against Tehran over its uranium-enrichment program. The sanctions began to be gradually lifted in January.
But the Iranian companies are still struggling with their limited capability to raise financing in U.S. dollars, the main currency in shipping, and have tried to secure financing from Chinese banks by offering Beijing oil in return for loan guarantees.
The IRISL order involves four mega-container vessels capable of moving 14,000 containers each and six tankers for petroleum products. The first deliveries are expected in 2018. The company operates about 115 oceangoing vessels, but many of the ships are old, have been deemed unsafe to travel and can’t be insured.
Iranian Offshore has been in talks with Korean and Chinese yards for at least five offshore drilling vessels known as jack-up rigs at around $200 million each, people familiar with the matter said in a Wall Street Journal article published in June.
As Iran moves to build modern fleets, its companies have been chartering vessels from Greek and other owners to build market share in container and tanker cargoes.
The Iranian shipping line hopes the container order will give it the necessary capacity to eventually join one of three major shipping alliances that move the vast majority of global containerized cargo, company officials have said.
The company’s managing director, Mohammad Saeidi, has been touring countries with major shipping clusters like Greece, France, Denmark Germany and Cyprus since late 2015 to secure chartering and vessel-sharing agreements, people involved in the talks have said.
Annual seaborne trade between Iran and the European Union amounted to $15 billion before the first broad, international sanctions were imposed on the country in 2008. Tehran expects to return to that level by 2020.
The Iranian orders will be a welcome respite for shipbuilders suffering from a virtual halt of new orders as shipping is trying to cope with glut of tonnage in the water estimated at 30% above demand,
South Korean shipbuilders have been selling noncore assets and slashing thousands of jobs to cope with the shrinking orders. South Korea is home to the world’s three largest shipbuilders—Hyundai Heavy, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co. and Samsung Heavy Industries Co.