Why is the U.S. Commerce Department trying to quash South African re-exportation of Ice Marine’s fast (65-80 mph) Bladerunner 51 to Iran? From International Trade Law News:

“…the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued a Temporary Denial Order (TDO) in an effort to prevent a powerboat containing U.S. engines and other components from being reexported from South Africa to Iran for possible use by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps navy.

The parties named in the TDO included the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) and Tadbir Sanaat Sharif Technology Development Center (TSS), both based in Tehran, Iran, and Icarus Marine (Pty) Ltd. of Cape Town, South Africa…”

At first pass–and as I wrote on my blog yesterday–it is easy to dismiss this as just another effort by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to move beyond their old fleet of Boston Whalers. Taken at face value, the complaint is an overly-fearful request to keep some U.S.-made Caterpillar C18 engines and Arneson surface drives out of Iranian hands. Woo. Big deal.

But…In the details of the complaint, there’s some personal contact info, that, in part tie this to the Revolutionary Guard and background on the transport arrangements–the boat will get shipped on a suspect vessel that goes by the name “Iranian Diplomat” or IMO 8309701. Dig a little, and the whole deal starts smelling like the go-fast is just an ancillary goal for the Iranians. Icing on a bigger [yellow] cake, so to speak. Our response is disproportionate, too. All this for 51 foot go-fast? Gimme a break.

So let’s take a closer look. First, note that the order was signed on January 22, 2009. So, if we’re peering at the political tea leaves, this order suggests that the Obama Administration is taking an uncompromising approach with things Iranian. The White House has long signalled their intent to move fast to engage in direct nuclear proliferation-related diplomacy with Iran, yet this request from the Commerce Department and our recent stop-and-search of an Iranian-owned vessel, suggest we’re not giving any ground, either. The Obama Administration may be moving–amazingly quickly–to roll back Iranian nuclear aspirations. To have all this going down within days of coming into office…quite the feat if it’s all being orchestrated.

Now, chest-thumping aside, what’s the big deal with this go-fast? Why are the Iranians looking to get this 51-foot asset from South Africa? Isn’t there lots of cross-gulf smuggling going on? Plenty of big, roomy fast boats transit from UAE to Iran every single night! Why go through all the trouble of shipping something from South Africa? In a big Iranian ship, a known proliferation tool? Wouldn’t it be easier to look closer to home? Nab a cigarette smuggler and take ownership from there? Or find some nearby disenfranchised recipient of oil proceeds and encourage the fellow to, ah, buy and transfer his fine vessel?

Just seems odd that Iran is reaching so far afield, when there are plenty of go-fasts within easy reach. But then, if we note that South Africa holds 7 percent of the worlds economically recoverable uranium reserves and is the eleventh biggest producer of uranium, alarm bells start ringing. Maybe there’s something else afoot? Perhaps. The UK Times drops a few hints of what might be at the root of our interest:

“Diplomatic sources believe that Iran’s stockpile of yellow cake uranium, produced from uranium ore, is close to running out and could be exhausted within months [Note–Iran got yellow cake from South Africa in the Shah era]. Countries including Britain, the US, France and Germany have started intensive diplomatic efforts to dissuade major uranium producers from selling to Iran.”

Ah ha! So, with all the usual caveats that come from tea-leaf-reading, I think there might be something happening here. Are we arranging a casus belli? Setting the stage for another high seas search and seizure?


Posted by Defense Springboard in Maritime Security

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  • Regardless of the reason, the US should work to stop all transfers. I wonder, the Royal Navy just had in the news a new type of small craft that is joining their fleet. Is this the Iranian response?

  • Bill

    AFAIK the restrictions referenced above have been in place and enforced for quite some time now..on about anything that remotely qualifies as potentially ‘dual use’ technology. We had to punt on a job to provide a motion stabilization package for an Iranian fast pasenger ferry build just last year.

    Unrelated comment: I’m familiar with ICE Marine (a UK company btw..or last I dealt with them they were)and their ‘Bladerunner’ design. While novel in appearance, it does not do anything particularly better or faster than your typical deep-V ‘go fast’ boat does. In my ‘bag of sea stories’ I could relate the one about what kind of stink gets raised when an overly cocky boat operator rolled a Bladerunner in a turn at high speed…with some rather..er..’high-level’ Navy passengers on board for the ride’. But that would be digressing. 😉

    It just seems odd that the Iranians went for such a high-profile high-dollar craft vice a more locally available ‘Cigarette’ knock-off of which there are many.