(Updates with further comment, detail)
By Can Sezer
ISTANBUL, July 10 (Reuters) - NITC, Iran’s leading oil tanker operator, said on Monday its shipments to Europe were increasing daily and the company plans to upgrade its fleet to support expansion.
International sanctions on Iran were lifted in January 2016 and NITC is looking to come in from the cold after years of isolation.
Mohammad Reza Shams Dolatabadi, NITC’s head of international affairs, told Reuters on the sidelines of an energy industry conference in Istanbul that the company aimed to replace some of its older tankers with new vessels.
“We have a plan for the renovation of our fleet and to buy new vessels. We’ll scrap some of our old vessels but we will not change our capacity,” he said.
“We have a (renovation) plan for five years, but (we are) still working to finalise that.”
NITC’s own operations were also hampered previously due to their difficulty in securing international insurance cover for their fleet and getting certification, a key requirement for access to many ports around the world, which tests the sea worthiness of ships.
Iran has steadily reconnected with buyers across Europe since sanctions were lifted and NITC expects to play a bigger role.
“We were active during the sanctions era in the Asian market, but we have started since last year to return to the European market as well,” Dolatabadi said.
“Our ships are calling at many European ports, and the number of these shipments is increasing day by day.”
He added that the company also planned to acquire liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers, marking a new direction for the company.
“We are thinking of an LNG fleet in the future,” he said.
“Iran has the largest gas reserves in the world. There are plans for production for liquefied gas, LNG, in the future. So due to that we are thinking about playing a part in the shipment of this product in the future. (It will come along) in the mid-term, three to five years,” he said. (Reporting by Can Sezer, writing by Jonathan Saul; editing by Jason Neely)