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Container Ship with 17 Indian Crew Seized by Iran

Container Ship with 17 Indian Crew Seized by Iran

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Apr 13: A cargo ship owned by Italian-Swiss Shipping group MSC with 25 crew members including 17 Indians, has been seized by the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards off the UAE coast on Saturday and was headed towards the Iranian territorial waters, official sources said.

Sources said the container ship MSC Aries was seized near the Strait of Hormuz by carrying out a “heliborne operation,” and was being taken towards the Iranian territorial waters.

Italian-Swiss Shipping group MSC said there were 25 crew members on board. “We regret to confirm that MSC Aries owned by Gortal Shipping Inc which is affiliated to Zodiac Maritime, and chartered to MSC, has been boarded by Iranian authorities via helicopter as she passed the Strait of Hormuz at approximately 0243 UTC this morning. She has 25 crew onboard, and we are working closely with the relevant authorities to ensure their wellbeing, and the safe return of the vessel,” the company said in a statement.

Besides 17 Indians (including the Master), other crew members include four Filipinos, 2 Pakistanis, one Russian and one Estonian. Zodiac Maritime is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. Zodiac declined to comment and referred questions to MSC, which did not immediately respond.

A source said, “We are aware that Iran has taken control of a cargo ship ‘MSC Aries’. We have learnt that there are 17 Indian nationals onboard. We are in touch with the Iranian authorities through diplomatic channels, both in Tehran and in Delhi, to ensure the security, welfare and early release of the Indian nationals.”

The seizure of the vessel comes amid heightened tensions in the Middle East. There are apprehensions of an attack on Israel by Iran, which has vowed retaliation for an airstrike on the consular section of its embassy in Syria’s Damascus almost two weeks ago. Seven people, including, two generals were killed in the airstrike.

Iran has said the vessel was “related to the Zionist regime (Israel) in the Gulf”. Two websites that track shipping traffic vesselfinder.com and marinetraffic.com, said MSC Aries was a Portuguese-flagged container ship and its last reported position was in the Gulf.

“A container ship named ‘MCS Aries’ was seized by the Sepah (Guards) Navy Special Forces by carrying out a heliborne operation,” media report said. The operation, it said, was carried out “near the Strait of Hormuz” – between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman – which is vital to world trade, and “this ship has now been directed towards the territorial waters” of Iran.

After the seizure of the ship, the Israeli army warned against escalating the conflict in the region. “Iran will bear the consequences for choosing to escalate the situation any further,” military spokesman Daniel Hagari said in a statement. “Iran is the world’s biggest state sponsor of terror. Its network of terror doesn’t just threaten the people of Israel, Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria; the regime in Iran fuels the war in Ukraine and beyond… Israel is on high alert. We have increased our readiness to protect Israel from further Iranian aggression. We are also prepared to respond,” the statement said.

Commandos from Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard rappelled down from a helicopter onto the Israeli-affiliated container ship near the Strait of Hormuz and seized the vessel. The wider Israeli war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip is now 6 months old and is inflaming decades-old tensions across the whole region.

Earlier, a Middle East defence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, shared a video of the attack with the media. In it, the commandos are seen rappelling down onto a stack of containers sitting on the deck of the vessel. A crew member on the ship can be heard saying: “Don’t come out.” He then tells his colleagues to go to the ship’s bridge as more commandos come down on the deck. One commando can be seen kneeling above the others to provide them potential cover fire.

The video corresponded with known details of the MSC Aries. The helicopter used also appeared to be a Soviet-era Mil Mi-17 helicopter, which both the Guard and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels of Yemen have used in the past to conduct commando raids on ships.

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations described the vessel as being “seized by regional authorities” in the Gulf of Oman off the Emirati port city of Fujairah, without elaborating. The MSC Aries had been last located off Dubai heading toward the Strait of Hormuz on Friday. The ship had turned off its tracking data, which has been common for Israeli-affiliated ships moving through the region.

Iran since 2019 has engaged in a series of ship seizures and attacks on vessels have been attributed to it amid ongoing tensions with the West over its rapidly advancing nuclear programme.

The Gulf of Oman is near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all globally traded oil passes. Fujairah, on the United Arab Emirates’ eastern coast, is a main port in the region for ships to take on new oil cargo, pick up supplies or trade out crew.

Since 2019, the waters off Fujairah have seen a series of explosions and hijackings. The U.S. Navy blamed Iran for limpet mine attacks on vessels that damaged tankers.




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