Wednesday, May 6, 2015

5,000 TEU Container Ship May be Released by Iranians Shortly

Detention Linked to Mistaken Identity Due to Name
Shipping News Feature

IRAN – The Maersk Tigris, the Marshall Islands flagged container ship seized by Iranian authorities on April 28 should be released within the next 48 hours according to sources in that country. Considering the 'facts' which have thus far emerged from the Iranians on this matter, don't hold your breath. The 5,466 TEU vessel was stopped and detained by four Iranian patrol boats whilst transiting the Straits of Hormuz.

Initial reports in US media were at a stroke both inaccurate and hysterical claiming the 6,188 TEU Maersk Kensington was the vessel attacked with 38 US sailors aboard. In fact the smaller ship, a time charter managed and crewed by Rickmers Ship Management, was asked to steer for Iran by the patrol boats and when she ignored them received a shot across the bows when she slowed and was boarded.

A destroyer and a reconnaissance plane were sent by the US Navy to monitor the situation but the situation is now said by Rickmers to be the result of a previous dispute between Maersk, who of course have no actual connection with the Tigris which is owned by a third party, and the Iranian authorities. Although she carries the Maersk name, the Tigris is merely chartered to the Danish group, operating on the shipping line’s ME3 service (Black Sea – Persian Gulf).

The crew of the seized ship are reportedly in good health and spirits as they await judgement on a cargo related matter dating back to at least 2005. The Iranians were presumably trying to exact a toll from Maersk Line in relation to this and it is believed some sort of ‘fine’ is likely to be levied on the operator’s, presumably to rectify the matter in the eyes of the local Court. Reports say the matter concerns the Pars Tala’eyeh Oil Products company which was allegedly paid $163,000 compensation after the disposal of containers, the contents of which belonged to the group.

Subsequent reports state that a return to the Iranian Courts resulted in a further $3.6 million in damages payable by Maersk, although the company says it has never been advised of these proceedings. Coincidentally Hamidreza Jahanian, CEO of the oil group, told the local press this week that his company was owed $10 million by Maersk for a claim originating in 2003. The net result of this matter is that now British and American ships are being shadowed by the US Navy as they transit the Gulf, guaranteed to heighten tensions in the area further.

Normally any commercial dispute would see the legitimate seizure of assets i.e. a ship, when she called into port. This obviously was never going to happen due to the current embargo on Iran but it seems, once again, the norms of diplomacy have by passed the Iranians, particularly in view that they have not only fired a shot, but that they have apparently targeted the wrong vessel. Even had the Maersk Tigris strayed into Iran’s territorial waters, the actions taken would seem to be excessive.