On Jan. 24, 2009, a rusting freighter flying a Hong Kong flag dropped anchor in the South African port of Durban. The stop was not on the ship’s customary route, and it stayed only an hour, just long enough to pick up its clandestine cargo: a Bladerunner 51 speedboat that could be armed with torpedoes and used as a fast-attack craft in the Persian Gulf.
The name painted on the ship’s side as it left Durban and made for the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas was the Diplomat, and its papers showed that it was owned by a company called Starry Shine Ltd. Both the name and provenance were of recent vintage. Six months earlier, the Diplomat had been the Iran Mufateh, part of a fleet owned by the state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, known as Irisl.
Within months of the Durban episode, the United States government put out word that Irisl had renamed the ship and set up Starry Shine to evade American export controls aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining military-use technology like the Bladerunner 51.
By that time, though, the freighter had yet another name: the Amplify. Last spotted by an electronic tracking system this April in Karachi, Pakistan, the Amplify was under new management and had a mysterious new owner.