The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has bypassed international sanctions imposed on Iran to ship oil, with catastrophic consequences for the Iranian economy, and for the region’s public health, worsening the coronavirus pandemic in middle-east.

The covert arrival and departure of Iran-linked vessels at key ports in the region have fuelled speculation and fears that the ships’ crews may be contributing to the spread of the coronavirus.

A number of provinces in southern Iran, where key ports are situated, are in red or orange zones owing to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Doctors have observed several strains of the novel coronavirus among patients in Khuzestan, according to health officials in the province.

Earlier this week, Iran’s Health Ministry reported that Hormozgan province has seen a 50% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past week.

Iran’s southern ports “are of strategic importance to the IRGC”, said Iranian human rights activist Haider Hameedi.

“They are the conduits through which it smuggles oil and other material, without adhering to preventive measures in order to limit the spread of the pandemic,” he said.

Iran also controls vessels that operate under the flags of other countries.

Last August, four vessels, among them the Ekaterina, were stripped of their flags following an investigation into allegations they secretly transported Iranian oil in defiance of sanctions, according to the Vesseltracker website.

“The ships all made covert visits to Iranian waters in 2020 where they collectively picked up millions of barrels of oil,” Vesseltracker said.

“The trips were part of a complex operation performed by Iranian and foreign vessels, in which ships manipulated their tracking data to hide their involvement in flouting US sanctions,” it said.

Last year, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the Iranian regime tasked the IRGC with managing the outbreak, allocating it large amounts of money.

The Iranian government and the IRGC have faced widespread criticism for their mismanagement of the pandemic and for their discriminatory and chaotic vaccine administration strategies.

Source » iranbriefing