Berlin—In separate efforts, Republican congressmen Mike Conaway and Peter King have confronted the world's third largest shipping company—the French-owned CMA CGM—for enabling Iranian arms to be smuggled aboard container ships. Some of the intended recipients of Iranian arms include the terrorist entity Hamas and perhaps other pro-Iranian regime states in Africa.
In a letter, Conaway urges Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to clamp down on CMA CGM for its failure to adhere to international counterterrorism standards on the high seas.
In December, King, who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, sent a strongly worded letter to Philippe Soulié, CEO of the giant French shipping company, discussing the same allegations. King wrote that he was “deeply concerned” about the French firm’s trade relationship with the regime in Iran. Both congressmen seek to bar CMA CGM from accessing Iranian ports.
In late December, Soulié replied, saying that CMA CGM is on the “forefront of shipping companies” in adherence to laws and regulations, especially in regard to the Iranian regime. Less than three months later, CMA CGM would operate another vessel on its way this time to deliver weapons to Hamas, and further help Iran's regime solidify a port of Iran in Gaza.
In March, the CMA CGM operated container ship MV Victoria was seized by Israel’s navy in the Mediterranean and escorted to Ashdod Port. More than 50 tons of weapons from Iran were aboard. They included anti-ship missiles, 3,000 mortar shells, and almost 70,000 rounds of ammunition for machine guns. To the credit of Israel's navy and intelligence agencies, the MV Victoria and its weapons cache were intercepted before reaching Hamas, thus preventing the firing of more Iran-Hamas rockets on Israel's southern cities.
The Treasury department is still reviewing Conaway's letter. Yet one wonders how aggressive Treasury will be in terms of Iran sanctions enforcement. But what happens with CMA CGM might very well turn out to be a litmus test for the Obama administration.
Here are both letters, followed by Soulié’s response:
Cma Cgm Letter 04 20 11final
King - 120810 Cma Cgm
122310 CMA CGM Response
Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.