Only eight refrigerated cargo vessels carrying fresh produce including bananas called at Iranian ports so far this year, down from 16 in 2011 and 36 in 2010, the IHS Fairplay data showed. Even fishing trawlers unloading their catch have slumped to five from 14 last year and 20 in 2010.
Starved of dollars as the sanctions curb oil exports, Iran bought large amounts of grain earlier this year using other currencies. Nevertheless dry bulk ships, which can carry cereals and commodities such as coal and iron ore, have also made fewer port calls with 100 arrivals so far compared with 352 in 2011 and 406 in 2010.
"You start to see Iran reaching a balance of payment crisis particularly on the imports side when a plummeting currency, which makes imports exceedingly expensive, is compounded by external sanctions," said Mark Dubowitz with the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
"The combination of these factors is making it difficult for Iran to buy what it needs from abroad and pay for these goods and services," said Dubowitz, who has advised U.S. President Barack Obama's administration and U.S. lawmakers on sanctions.
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Iran has faced an exodus of international companies providing marine-related services including certification of its fleet, which is vital for securing insurance and ports access. Earlier this year, sanctions pressure also led to the near collapse of an Iranian-led shipping venture with an Indian firm.
Another package of proposed sanctions by the United States and EU aims to tighten the economic noose on Tehran yet further.
"There is strong momentum now to target non-humanitarian commercial imports to Iran in order to put significant pressure on its balance of payments and bring the economic cripple date closer," Dubowitz said.