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Iran-India friendship company is closing down

Irano Hind shipping company was started 37 years ago.

Kabir Taneja  New Delhi | 5th Aug 2012

he Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) have decided to close down the Irano Hind shipping company, which was created through a joint venture between the two countries 37 years ago. Continuous US sanctions on Tehran have made it difficult for the company to operate profitably, leading to the decision.

SCI chairman Sabyasachi Hajara has said that the company was "struggling due to sanctions" and that the promoters decided that the assets of the company would be split between SCI and IRISL.

Irano Hind was set up in 1975, with SCI holding a 49% stake in the company and IRISL holding the remaining 51%. It was a sign of friendship and a monument to celebrate India's historic relations with Iran. The company was devised during then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's visit to Tehran, predominantly to transport Indian iron ore to Iran.

According to sources, the company will be split on the same ownership pattern as it currently stands. At present it has a fleet of six vessels, with a seventh being constructed at a shipyard in South Korea. The under construction vessel will be delivered to SCI as part of the deal.

The closure of Irano Hind has taken many by surprise in Delhi, while many also see it as a mistake and the inability of Delhi to keep American pressure at bay.

Ravi Mehrotra, chairman of the London based Foresight Group and a former MD of Irano Hind remembers being part of the team responsible for setting up the company in Tehran.

"I was one of the team of four who brought the 49% equity cheque from Government of India to Tehran in April 1975, which started Irano Hind," says Mehrotra, who left Irano Hind in 1984 and moved to London, in an exclusive interview to The Sunday Guardian.

"Irano Hind was close to my heart, the news came to me as a bit of a shock although the company was blacklisted under US sanctions. It is sad, but we have to watch from the sidelines."

When asked whether Delhi did little to try and salvage a 37-year-old institution between the two countries, Mehrotra said the shutting down of the company was possibly the only thing left to do in current circumstances.

"I will not make any political comments, but looking from India's point of view, considering the conflict where its services can be misused, I do not think there was any other alternative but to close and divide the assets. But as the initial person responsible for making it a successful company which survived 37 years with continuous profits for both partners, certainly I would have liked Irano Hind to have been saved, but I am not aware of the current political intricacies."

Two weeks ago, the US announced a fresh batch of sanctions imposed on Tehran as it continues to choke Iran's major trade lifelines such as export of crude oil. The new sanctions are known to be the "toughest ones yet", according to sources, aimed at depriving Tehran of hard currency. India's oil imports from Iran have been falling steadily, with an 18% drop recorded for the month of June.

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