DVB Bank says holding Iranian ship in China over debt
* Iranian shipping firms face growing trade pressure
* Second ship sought by DVB Bank fled from Sri Lanka
LONDON, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Germany's DVB Bank is holding an Iranian-owned dry bulk ship in China over debt payment claims, a senior bank official said on Friday, in a sign of growing pressure faced by Iran's fleet on top of Western sanctions.
The Uppercourt was arrested in the northern Chinese cargo port of Qinhuangdao in late November, said Iris Schrecker, senior vice president with DVB Bank's group compliance office.
The Uppercourt is one of four Iranian bulk ships DVB has been trying to seize.
Public shipping databases showed the vessel was managed by Tehran-based Rahbaran Omid Darya Ship Management, which the European Union and United States have said is a front for Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), Iran's biggest cargo carrier and subject to Western and U.N. sanctions.
"That (the vessel) is going through the normal commercial process of permitting IRISL to give their comments to the arrest ... and potentially then either making restitution or being auctioned off," Schrecker told Reuters.
"We still are in discussions with IRISL to find an amicable solution nonetheless for the bank."
Officials in Iran and China could not immediately be reached for comment.
An arrest occurs when a ship is detained by a court order to secure a maritime claim. The arrest may ultimately result in a judicial sale of the ship to pay the claim.
Last week the Amina, another of the four, fled Sri Lankan waters after weeks of detention by its navy, acting on a court order obtained by DVB Bank. Sri Lanka's navy had fired warning shots earlier to prevent the vessel from leaving.
"We have already locally, as well as in writing, articulated our concerns to IRISL," Schrecker said, adding that the bank had not received any direct response to its enquiry about the Amina.
"We have asked for an investigation in Sri Lanka as to how she was able to flee. Our primary objective is either to obtain repayment or to get the vessel," Schrecker added.
Ship tracking data on Friday indicated the vessel was positioned close to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas after it had been located for several days off the coast of India.
DVB Bank previously tried to seize two other Iranian vessels, the Tongham and the Artin, which ship tracking showed were currently located at Iranian ports.
"We had hoped that we would be able to access these two vessels as they came close to Singapore. That was not possible, and we are of course in discussions with IRISL attempting to find a solution in order to recoup our funds," Schrecker said.
IRISL has tried to dodge sanctions by changing its flags and setting up front companies, the U.S. Treasury and the EU have said. It has faced western sanctions for years based on accusations of transporting weapons, a charge it denies.
Difficulties faced by IRISL and other Iranian ship operators include an EU ban on provision of ship insurance; the exit from Iran of firms that certify ships, which is vital for access to ports; and the de-flagging of vessels from international registries.
Last year IRISL Managing Director Mohammad Hussein Dajmar said that if pressure from Western sanctions continued, the group would face increasingly grave financial problems.
"It is not just sanctions by the U.S. and EU, but it is also U.N. sanctions. That is a different level than perhaps by an individual jurisdiction. That of course made it extremely difficult for IRISL to make payments," DVB's Schrecker said.
(editing by Jane Baird)