Iran said its needs up to 34 new oil tankers to refurbish and expand its ageing fleet. Iran currently owns or has placed orders for a total of 36 tankers, said Mohammad Souri, head of the state-owned National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC).
"After taking delivery of our new tankers, the total number of our tankers will reach 36. To transfer all our export crude with our own ships, we will need to have 60 to 70," he said.
Souri said Iran had placed orders for 10 new tankers from China and South Korea to double its fleet's capacity to six million tons. He did not name the shipbuilders involved. Iran plans to order up to eight liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers when production begins at its South Pars field in the Gulf, he said.
Officials have said production from the main early phases of the field would begin by September 2001.
Souri said his company had also contracted local shipbuilder Sadra-Neka to build eight 60,000-ton tankers and five other vessels in a deal worth $260 million. The ships, to be built with foreign help, will be used to carry Caspian Sea crude.
Souri said the new ships would be needed when a pipeline to carry crude from Iran's Caspian port of Neka to the capital Tehran is completed by the end of 2002.
Iran last month signed a $103 million deal with Chinese and Swiss companies to build the pipeline that it plans to use in oil swap deals with Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.
Souri implied that his company was reluctant about the deal with the Iranian shipbuilder, suggesting that the contract was influenced by recent government regulations aimed at protecting the local industry.
"Iran's shipbuilding capability is limited and (our) ships are not up to international standards. This will create problems for our activities," he said.
Iran is the second largest oil producer within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The country has the world's biggest natural
gas reserves after Russia.