Ship and air links to Iran are slowly being reknit

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Ship and air links to Iran are slowly being reknit

Sea and air routes between Korea and Iran will be normalized following the lifting of economic sanctions.

According to the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries on Thursday, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), a state-run Iranian shipping company, will start operating a 5,000-ton container ship to the Busan port once a week starting next month, resuming business that was suspended in late 2011.

A direct air route from Incheon to Tehran will be resumed for the first time in seven years, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

After establishing a joint venture with a Korean firm in 2004, IRISL sent vessels to the Busan and Gwangyang ports three times a week, but the business was halted after economic sanctions went into effect in December 2011.

Korean companies such as Hyundai Merchant Marine and Hanjin Shipping resumed doing business with Iran since last June.

To get the trade going again, IRISL brought 4,550 containers to Busan in February. “We are loading steel products and electronic appliances, as well as auto parts into containers now,” a spokesman for IRISL said.

IRISL established a joint venture with Korea’s Sebang Group in 1965 that did ship loading and unloading. The company later launched a battery business and was investigated in 2006 for irregularities in winning a contract to supply batteries for the Korean Navy’s submarines.

“Sebang hasn’t performed well in the [loading] business since that time,” an industry insider said.

IRISL split with Sebang in 2009 and established its own office in Korea, but the company will maintain its business relationship with the company as Sebang has a one-third stake in the Busan port’s Busan International Terminal.

The Busan Port Authority said the number of containers shipped between Korea and Iran will be increased by 60,000 from a year ago to 100,000 units. Before the economic sanctions, the number of containers shipped between Korea and Iran was 180,000 per year.

The lifting of sanctions will reopen the air routes between Seoul and Iran. According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on Wednesday, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines have applied for licenses to operate direct flights from Incheon International Airport to Tehran. The ministry will decide on the licenses Friday. According to an aeronautical agreement between the two countries made in 1998, each country can run four flights per week, but in the past, flights were sporadic.

Establishing direct flights would be the first regular operation to Iran by a national flag carrier.


BY KWON SANG-SOO [kwon.sangsoo@joongang.co.kr]
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