Iran says it seized Israeli ship in Arabian Sea

Revolutionary Guard forces boarded the vessel from a helicopter, Iranian state media say

Iran says it seized Israeli ship in Arabian Sea

Iran says it seized Israeli ship in Arabian Sea
Powered by automated translation

Iran's Revolutionary Guard seized a container ship with links to Israel in the Arabian Sea on Saturday amid heightened tensions between the two countries over the killing of senior members of the paramilitary group in an air strike in Syria.

Iran's official Irna news agency identified the seized ship as the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries. It said the Revolutionary Guard's naval forces boarded the ship from a helicopter near the Strait of Hormuz and that it was being taken to Iranian waters.

The Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) issued a statement confirming that the vessel had been seized near the strait at 6.43am UAE time and diverted towards Iran.

"We regret to confirm that MSC Aries owned by Zodiac Maritime and chartered to MSC has been boarded by Iranian authorities via helicopter as she passed the Strait of Hormuz at approximately 243 UTC this morning," it said.

MSC said the ship had 25 crew on board and that it was "working closely with the relevant authorities to ensure their well-being, and the safe return of the vessel".

Zodiac Maritime is a shipping company partly owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer. It said the ship was leased to MSC on a long-term basis and that its title was held by its affiliate Gortal Shipping as financier.

"MSC is the manager and commercial operator of the container vessel MSC Aries. MSC is responsible for all vessel activities including cargo operations and maintenance. MSC is also responsible for the vessel’s itinerary, schedule and crew on-board and any queries about the vessel should be directed to MSC," the company said.

The ship's seizure comes as Iran was reported to be considering its options to retaliate against Israel for an air strike on it embassy compound in the Syrian capital Damascus that killed Brig Gen Mohammad Reza Zahedi and Brig Gen Mohammad Hadi Haji Rahimi, along with five other Iranian officers.

Responding to reports of the seizure of MSC Aries, Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said "Iran will bear consequences for choosing to escalate this situation any further".

There were calls from European governments for de-escalation from Iran and US President Joe Biden cut short a weekend away from Washington.

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said he was concerned at the threat posed by Iran to Israel.

Dutch Foreign Minister Hanke Bruins Slot said she has spoken to Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian urging Iran to not attack Israel and instead to act to "de-escalate".

"I made it clear to my Iranian counterpart that Iran should not attack Israel and should take actions for de-escalation," Ms Slot said.

A Biden spokesman said: "The President is returning to the White House this afternoon to consult with his national security team about events in the Middle East," the White House said.

On Tuesday, the naval head of the Revolutionary Guards, Alireza Tangsiri, said Iran could close the Strait of Hormuz if deemed necessary.

Marine traffic in the region has already been severely disrupted since Israel launched a military offensive in Gaza in early October. The Iran-aligned Houthi group in Yemen began launching drone and missile attacks on ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in November in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war.

At the same time, there has been a resurgence in attacks on ships by Somali pirates after a lull of several years.

The Houthi attacks have forced many shipping firms to reroute their vessels to the longer and more expensive journey around southern Africa, and stoked fears that the Israel-Hamas war could spread to destabilise the wider Middle East.

The US and Britain have carried out strikes against Houthi targets in response to the attacks, while a US-led coalition and a European Union force have been deployed to protect ships.

Updated: April 13, 2024, 5:48 PM