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Economics

Iran's Smugglers Feel the Squeeze

Sanctions and higher fuel prices hit bootleggers’ livelihood
Smugglers in Khasab, Oman, prepare to cross the Strait of Hormuz to reach the Iranian coast
Smugglers in Khasab, Oman, prepare to cross the Strait of Hormuz to reach the Iranian coastPhotograph by Kamran Jebreili/AP Images

One of the things that has made Iranian life tolerable under sanctions has been the flood of smuggled foreign goods. Fishermen by day, Iran’s black marketers make the two-hour journey across the Strait of Hormuz after dark to Oman to bring back flat-screen televisions, cell phones, and food. The traders have plied these waters for years, risking their lives in boats ill-equipped to cross one of the busiest waterways in the world. Now rising fuel costs have increased the price of the trips, while a slide in the value of Iran’s currency has made it harder to pay suppliers.

The risks are even greater with the state cracking down on imports of manufactured items. “Nobody would believe that we put our life in danger on the sea for a profit of about $80” a month, Aghil Bandari says at the fishermen’s pier in Bandar Abbas, Iran, as three co-workers unload a catch of crabs in heat of 40C (104F). With more sanctions, “Our situation will only get tougher.”