Iran says MSC Aries vessel seized for 'violating maritime laws'

A Portuguese-flagged container ship, the MSC Aries, was seized by Iran on April 13 for "violating maritime laws", Iran's foreign ministry said on Monday, adding that there was no doubt the vessel was linked to Israel.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards seized the cargo vessel in the Strait of Hormuz days after Tehran vowed to retaliate for a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Damascus on April 1. Iran had said it could close the crucial shipping route.

"The vessel was diverted into Iran's territorial waters as a result of violating maritime laws and not answering calls made by Iranian authorities," spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said.

Iran launched a barrage of missiles and explosive drones on Saturday in its first direct attack on Israeli territory, a strike that Tehran said was self-defense after the bombing of the consulate.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency reported that a Guards helicopter had boarded the MSC Aries and taken it into Iranian waters.

MSC, which operates the Aries, confirmed Iran had seized the ship and said it was working "with the relevant authorities" for its safe return and the wellbeing of its 25 crew.

MSC leases the Aries from Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of Zodiac Maritime, Zodiac said in a statement, adding that MSC is responsible for all the vessel's activities. Zodiac is partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.

Tensions have soared across the Middle East since the start of Israel's campaign in Gaza in October, with Israel or its ally the United States clashing repeatedly with Iranian-aligned groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

In response to reports of the seizure, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz accused Iran of piracy.

Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers' Federation, the leading seafarers' union, said that "innocent seafarers must be protected from escalating conflicts they have no role in instigating, nor power to resolve".

The International Chamber of Shipping called the seizure a "flagrant breach of international law and an assault on freedom of navigation".

Recent attacks on merchant shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthis have also affected the global maritime transport chain, as well as trade and port activities in and around the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

Patrick Verhoeven, managing director of the International Association of Ports and Harbors, said the seizure of the MSC Aries "has the potential to further disrupt cargo transits in and out of the region, which will impact all of our member ports, one way or another". 

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt