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Iran tanker firm says privatization on schedule

Tehran (Reuters) - Iran is proceeding with plans to privatise the state-owned National Iranian Tanker Co despite public criticism of the privatisation, NITC head Mohammed Souri said yesterday.

"The transfer of National Iranian Tanker Co to the private sector is proceeding normally, according to the law," Iran's news agency, IRNA, quoted Souri as saying.

Souri said within one month the Tehran stock exchange would give an estimate of the company's market value, which he put at 3.66 trillion rials ($449 million). Souri said company assets, disregarding debts, were worth $2 billion.

He said the state welfare organisation and a state employees' pension fund would each receive 33 per cent of the company's shares, with the remaining 34 per cent going to the oil ministry employees' pension fund, IRNA reported.

Newspapers have criticised the company's privatisation, carried out under a five-year economic plan which aims to trim the state sector.

One critic has said the privatisation would weaken Iran's position within Opec, where it is the second largest oil producer, while others have spoken out against transferring ownership to interests unfamiliar with the shipping branch.

A move to privatise NITC's sister company, National Iranian Drilling Co, prompted a parliamentary probe after drilling company workers staged protests, fearing layoffs.

The employees also said the company's transfer to an oil ministry pension fund might lead to windfall profits for company officials.

Souri said in August that, in a modernisation move, the NITC had ordered tankers worth $2.5 billion in the past five years, the bulk of the payment for them having been borrowed.

He said his company earned an average $250 million a year, 60 per cent of it from services to foreign companies.


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