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Iran's Maritime Services After The Sanctions

With 22 maritime services, Iran is expected to see an increase of around 250% in the capacity of container shipping passing through its ports in spring 2016, up from about 1 MTEU in April last year (see Figure 1). This level of capacity, achieved only a few months after the international sanctions were lifted, shows shipping lines’ tangible interest in serving the Iranian market, and its wider hinterland, more directly.

Figure 1: Deployed annual capacity (mTEU), all services passing through the Gulf


Source: MDS Transmodal, Containership Databank

With the international sanctions now removed and the presumption that Iran could reach the level of economic development currently experienced by similar countries, we estimate that Iran could achieve a level of 0.050 TEU per capita in 2040 (up from 0.017 TEU per head in 2014). This would imply that Iran’s long term growth rate for containerised imports could double from the 3% per annum that was seen while the sanctions were in place to some 6% per annum.

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

Of the 22 maritime services scheduled to call at Iranian ports in April 2016, eleven are intra-Gulf services and four of these are new services. These new services have contributed to boosting the level of capacity deployed on the services operating within the intra-Gulf market by about 89% compared to last year – which is now about 740,000 TEU. Looking at the scheduled services for April 2016, Iranian container ports are expected to handle more traffic than competitor ports in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Deployed annual capacity (mTEU), intra-Gulf services


Source: MDS Transmodal, Containership Databank

With no sanctions to stop the Iranian ports competing with their neighbours in the Gulf, the coming months could see a change in the competitive landscape within the Gulf market.