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Iran – changes in maritime services post-sanctions*

With 25 maritime services, Iran is expected to see an increase of approximately 40% in the level of container ship capacity passing through its ports in November, up from c. 3m TEU estimated in April last year (see Figure 1). This level of capacity, achieved thanks to the lifting of international sanctions, shows tangible evidence of shipping lines’  interest in serving the Iranian (and its hinterland) market more directly.

On the presumption, now international sanctions have been removed, that Iran could reach the level of economic development currently experienced by similar countries (in terms of GDP and population), we estimate that Iran could achieve a level of 0.050 of TEU per capita in 2040 (up from 0.017 in 2014). This translates into Iran’s imports potentially growing at a rate of some 6% p.a. instead of an annual 3% in the case of the sanctions still being in place.

Shipping lines are expected to adjust their strategies for the deepsea services as well as shortsea services. Calling directly at Iranian ports instead of feedering the Iranian market through neighbouring countries’ could equate to a saving in the region of $200/TEU for a shipping line on the Far East-Gulf route.

Thirteen of the twenty-five maritime services scheduled to call at Iranian ports in November are intra-Gulf services, three of which are new entrants compared to the same month last year. These new services have contributed to boosting the level of capacity deployed on the services operating within the intra-Gulf market by 40% compared to last year; now estimated to exceed a level of 1m TEU. Looking at the scheduled services for this month, Iranian ports are expected to overtake some surrounding competitor ports as shown in Figure 2.

With no sanctions to stop the Iranian ports competing with their competitors in the Gulf, the landscape within the Gulf market will likely change. Big names have already made their return to Iranian ports with Maersk now slotting on a weekly service calling at Iran and UAE. Although the service serves only the intra-regional market and the vessels deployed on this service are relatively small (1,720 TEU), Maersk coming back to Iran after five years marks a change in the role that Iran can play in the Gulf & ISC market.

Figure 1: Deployed annual capacity (mTEU), all services passing through the Gulf Source: MDS Transmodal, Containership Databank November 2016

Figure 2: Deployed annual capacity (mTEU), intra-Gulf services Source: MDS Transmodal, Containership Databank November 2016

* For this analysis we have taken into account full-container and semi-container ships of at least 1,000 TEU