Maersk cargo ship seized by Iran released

by Amir Vahdat And David Rising THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

TEHRAN, Iran—A Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship seized by Iran has been released and the crew members are all in good condition, according to the ship’s operator.

Rickmers Ship Management told The Associated Press in an email Thursday that the MV Maersk Tigris was released following a court order. It will now continue its scheduled voyage to Jebel Ali, in the United Arab Emirates, where it will be met by representatives from Rickmers and others.

Iranian forces seized the ship April 28 as it traversed the Strait of Hormuz. It was taken to Bandar Abbas, the main port of Iran’s navy, under escort by Iranian patrol boats.

Iran claimed that the Danish shipping company that chartered the ship, Maersk Line, owed money to an Iranian firm. Rickmers’ spokesman Cor Radings would not comment on whether any money was paid to settle the case with Iran, saying in a telephone interview from Amsterdam “that is up to Maersk and the Iranian authorities, our responsibility is with the vessel and crew.”

He said his company had confirmed that the ship had left the Iranian port with all 24 crew members on board and all of its cargo, and that it was expected to arrive in Jebel Ali late Thursday night or early Friday morning.

Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization said in a statement that the government had received the appropriate assurances from Maersk Line. The Danish company had, “ensured the provision of a letter of guarantee for the enforcement of the judicial decision,” the statement said.

In Copenhagen, Maersk Line spokesman Michael Storgaard told AP that the case “is not over yet,” but confirmed that the company was committed to covering the $163,000 debt claimed by the Iranian firm, if necessary. “We have said we would be willing to pay the $163,000 but for now we have not paid anything,” he said.

Storgaard said lawyers from both sides will now begin looking into the matter.

Denmark’s Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard made reference to an apparent role by his government in the negotiations, saying it was “gratifying that our joint efforts” had led to the release of the ship.

“For Denmark as a seafaring nation, it is obviously a priority that international obligations are complied with and that ships can sail in the Persian Gulf,” Lidegaard said in a statement. “We have also made that clear in our contact with the Iranian authorities.”

The incident came at a critical time in Iran’s relations with the West, as talks on Tehran’s contested nuclear program continue and frictions rise amid a U.S.-backed campaign by a Saudi-led coalition carrying out airstrikes against Iranian-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen.

Following the Maersk incident, Washington adopted a policy change, allowing any U.S.-flagged ship to be accompanied by Navy warships through the narrow strait, which includes Iranian territorial waters. Navy ships are positioned nearby and are ready to respond if needed, but they do not actually escort a vessel.

The Strait of Hormuz is the route for about a fifth of the world’s oil and is only about 33 kilometres (21 miles) wide at its narrowest point.

Rising reported from Berlin. Associated Press writer Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark contributed to this report.