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Friday, May 8, 2015

Iran releases Maersk Tigris from Strait of Hormuz

Towards the end of April 2015, Strait of Hormuz -  at its narrowest, the strait is 21 nautical miles (39 km) wide was in news for wrong reasons. Considered as a choke point – some trouble does garner global attention.  It is the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean and is one of the world's most strategically important choke points.  Here, to reduce the risk of collision, ships moving through the Strait follow a Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS): inbound ships use one lane, outbound ships another, each lane being two miles wide. The lanes are separated by a two-mile-wide "median".    Twenty percent of oil traded worldwide moves by tanker through the Strait of Hormuz. 

It was reported that the   Iranian military on Tuesday [28/4/2015]  seized a Western cargo ship in the Persian Gulf.  The Pentagon said, the Marshall Islands-flagged Maersk Tigris did not have any U.S. citizens aboard and was travelling through the Strait of Hormuz when the confrontation occurred.  Al Arabiya, the Saudi news network, initially reported that a U.S. vessel has been fired on and steered to the Bandar Abbas port by Iran. Iran's Fars News Agency also reported that an "American trade vessel" had been confiscated. The Pentagon  called the Iranian firing of warning shots at the ship "inappropriate."  According to a report in Tehran’s semi-official Fars news agency, the Iranian Navy “confiscated the American trade vessel” because it was “trespassing” in Iran’s territorial waters.    

The vessel in news was  Maersk Tigris, registered in Marshall Islands,  a brand new 52,600-ton container ship,  built in 2014;  managed by Singapore-based Rickmers Ship Management, which is part of Hamburg-based Rickmers Group.  According to the ship-tracking site, the 52,600-ton cargo vessel departed from Ambarli, Turkey April 8 en route to Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates.  Going by the map, it is stated that it abruptly changed course in the Strait of Hormuz and was heading to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, after being captured.

Today, BBC reports that the container ship seized in the Strait of Hormuz by Iran last week has been released, its operator has confirmed. Rickmers Shipmanagement said the 24 crew members of the Maersk Tigris were "in a good condition".

Moving away from the news of forced seizure and gun-firing, Iran said the ship was detained because of a legal dispute between the Danish company chartering it, Maersk, and a private Iranian firm. Maersk says the dispute dates backs to 2005, when it delivered 10 containers to Dubai for Pars Oil Products. The containers were not collected and the cargo was disposed of after 90 days by the UAE authorities, it asserts.  The Iranian company subsequently accused Maersk of default and claimed $4m (£2.6m) as the value of the cargo. Maersk said it challenged the suit successfully and in 2007 the case was dismissed. However, an appeals court ordered it to pay $163,000 (Rs.1.04 crores approx) in February.

Iran's Ports and Shipping Organisation said permission for the release of the ship was given on Thursday after Maersk "ensured the provision of a letter of guarantee for the enforcement of the judicial decision".  A Maersk statement said the release followed "a constructive dialogue with the Iranian authorities, including the Ports and Maritime Organization, and the provision of a letter of undertaking in relation to the underlying cargo case".  We will continue our dialogue with the aim to fully resolve the cargo case."  Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said the government was involved in the negotiations. "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," he added.

The ship was expected to arrive at Jebel Ali, in the United Arab Emirates, late on Thursday or early Friday, where it will be met by representatives of Rickmers. The seizure of the Maersk Tigris in one of the world's major shipping lanes threatened to turn into an international incident. Shots were fired across the bow of the vessel by the Iranian patrol boats before it agreed to change course for Bandar Abbas.

The US called the Iranian action "unacceptable" and sent the destroyer USS Farragut to the area to monitor the situation. Maersk said its ship was in an international shipping lane when it was detained, but Tehran insisted it had been in Iranian waters.

Now the strait is much calmer perhaps !
With regards – S. Sampathkumar

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