May 5, 2015
Like the infamous Bermuda Triangle, an Iranian ship seizure in the Straits of Hormuz is inexplicable. The 60,000-ton container ship was christened in December of 2014 and seized five months later by Iranian Revolutionary Guard gunboats, forced by gunpoint into the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.
Iran justified its actions claiming the AP Moller-Maersk Company owes an unnamed-Iranian company $4 million USD for 10 containers that were not deliver to Dubai more than 10 years ago. Maersk admitted it owed a couple hundred thousand dollars, a court agreed and they tried to pay the money, but Iranian officials claimed the Islamic Republic’s court granted a new judgment against Maersk for $3.6 million USD.
However the facts seem fluid. Initial information revealed the ship, the Merchant Vessel (M/V) Maersk Tigris, sails under the Marshall Islands flag as a container ship, it was built by Daewoo Heavy Industries of South Korea under the supervision of Rickmers Group of Singapore and owned by Wide Golf Ltd, a Luxembourg registered company.
Curiously, that information has been changed and now the Washington Post and the Financial Times are both reporting the ship is owned by Oaktree Capital Ltd of California, which built and now owns the ship. The question now becomes “How did it get the Maersk name?” Research into the Maersk fleet did not find the Tigris on any Maersk registries of ships it owns or operates. Oaktree Capital has not responded to multiple attempts to reach them about the mystery ship.
Yet, Maersk representative Michael Christian Storgaard acknowledged responsibility and told IHS Maritime that the arrest was “illegal from a UN point of view to seize a commercial vessel while in international waters or while making innocent passage through a country’s territorial waters… When someone seizes something, you are told the reason. You are presented with some court ruling or an arrest order or an official document.”
“Iran’s seizure of a container ship last week stems from a decade-long dispute over 10 shipping containers,” officials at Maersk, the Danish shipping giant said.
But the ship does not appear on Maersk owned or operated register. A simple check of the ship registries or international maritime insurance companies would quickly establish ownership or license of the ship. Generally, a ship is “arrested” in a port and held until a bond is posted or the disputed fee is paid.
The potential liability for holding a ship for an extended period is extremely high, as the shipper must fill contractual obligations and when those are not met, fees or late charges will be incurred. The potential cost of this Iranian detainment is in the millions.
Clearly Iran wanted the Maersk Tigris under its control and supervision. Iran has reported the crew was removed from the ship and it seems plausible the Iranians are searching the ship from stem to stern looking for … what?
Last week while the State Department worked assiduously to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN) decided to seize control of a cargo ship carrying more than 5,400 shipping containers. Prior to seizure, the Tigris stopped at four Southern Turkish ports of AMBARLI, YARIMCA, NEMRUT BAY, and MERSIN, and JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA. It never reached its final destination of the United Arab of Emirates.
According to Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren the Tigris was approached by several Iranian patrol vessels of the IRGCN, the maritime arm of the paramilitary unit that is generally tasked with “preserving the Islamic revolution.”
The IRGCN, assigned to the Gulf, regularly sends boats to follow shipping vessels when they transit through the strait. Earlier in the week, CNN reported, four IRGCN boats aggressively baited U.S.-flagged Maersk Kensington in the Strait of Hormuz; the Iranians followed the ship closely for hours. After the incident, the U.S. Fifth Fleet issued an alert to other seafarers.
The Strait of Hormuz is one of the world’s most-known maritime chokepoints; approximately 20 percent of the world’s supply of crude oil passes through the 6-mile-wide shipping channel. The latest provocative actions from Iran renewed threats the Islamic Republic can disrupt the shipping lanes. However, the US and its allies confirm they would take extraordinary measures to ensure the vital waterway remains open for business.
Col. Warren told reporters, “The Tigris remains at anchor some 15 to 20 miles off the Iranian port. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is in discussion with the Marshall Islands on the way forward, and the Pentagon is continuing to monitor developments. The U.S. destroyers are still in the area; the Farragut is sailing some 60 nautical miles away from the Tigris, and U.S. aircraft continue to monitor from the skies.”
“The crew is safe and under the circumstances in good spirits. Rickmers Ship management and Maersk are working in close dialogue to obtain information about the seizure and explore options to help resolve this situation. They are also in dialogue with the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” according to Rickmers Group. When queried about the legal standoff, the press department for Rickmers chose to obfuscate and pointed members of the media to MTI, a crisis management firm that has not responded to questions about the international incident.
The Iranians say the cargo ship will be released if the ship’s operating company settles its overdue debts to an Iranian plaintiff, the Iranian Embassy in Denmark announced on Thursday. “Iranian authorities reiterate that there has been absolutely no political or security intentions or considerations behind the incident,” a Danish Iranian Embassy statement read. Interesting that the Iran seized Tigris because it was not even a twinkle in the shipbuilder’s eyes in 2008 and had no involvement with the Dubai containers.
A spokesman for Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization said the seizure of Maersk Tigris was based on a court ruling issued on March 16, 2015, which reportedly came after a plaintiff sued the Maersk Line, the Danish company operating the ship, over unpaid debts, Press TV reported. “The seizure of the ship was solely an enforcement of a judicial court ruling resulting from a commercial dispute between two private parties. Naturally the ship will be released after settlement of debts by Maersk Shipping Line and will be allowed to sail to its final destination.” The statement also said Iran agreed to allow diplomats to meet the ship’s crew. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham “defended as legal Iran’s decision to impound the ship, which is currently docked at the Bahonar Port near Bandar Abbas in southern Iran.”
The latest confrontation with Iran prompted the Pentagon to order military shadowing of US and UK-flagged ships travelling through the Persian Gulf.
Newly installed chief at DOD Ashton Carter approved the new White House policy as a cautionary measure. DOD spokesman Warren said “American naval forces will continue to monitor the situation… This is going to continue for an indefinite period of time.” Currently the U.S. Navy has 11 vessels in the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf that could immediately accompany vessels — five patrol craft, four destroyers, one cruiser and one minesweeper, according to an official with the service who asked not to be identified discussing deployments. The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is in the Persian Gulf, but unlikely to participate, the official said.
Questions yet to be answered involve the ship’s manifests. Was it a man in the middle? In the past Qatar and UAE have been reported to have shipped weapons using Turkey as a destination point for distribution. Also, the United Nations has issued an arms embargo for weapons in and out of Yemen and Syria, yet the region is flooded with trafficked arsenals.
Is this stunt by Iran more than a provocative move? Were they tipped off by a spy that questionable cargo was abroad the cargo ship? Or is this a leverage play in the US/Iran nuke deal? Could the Iranians be searching for some contraband on the Tigris, and if they don’t find it would they simply place it inside a container to embarrass the West? Either scenario is plausible, one must only look back to the Benghazi debacle where the US allegedly moved disposed Libyan dictator Gadhafi’s weapons out of Benghazi, through Qatar, then Turkey (where this ship stopped) and into Syria.
Another puzzle piece worth noting is the Department of Defense signed a contract with Maersk in October 2014 making them a priority customer. But why all the US action when Maersk claims Tigris is not its ship?
One of the biggest red flags may be the fact that the ship’s owner is not screaming bloody murder about the unlawful detention of a cargo ship with plenty of cargo not being delivered?
The US State Department weighed in today and said; “We have made a variety [of efforts] to help secure the release of the ship,” said acting deputy spokesman Jeff Rathke. He indicated that the cargo ship is in Iranian territorial waters that are recognized as lawful shipping lanes that it is authorized to sail through under international law. “We remain in contact with them to peacefully resolve the incident and ensure safe passage for the vessel and its — and its crew,” he said.
“We’re in discussion with the Republic of the Marshall Islands on the basis of our compact with them to determine steps and the way forward,” he concluded. Yet the Marshall Islands claim it has no agreement with the US for protection of its flagged ships. The mystery deepens.
After Houthis rebels seized Yemen’s third largest city, Aden, the US-installed Yemeni President, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, was forced to flee the country by boat. So, while Hadi was rowing for his life, White House spokesperson, Josh Earnest was extolling the successes of the Administration’s showcase counterterrorism template – Yemen, go figure.
Watch Kimberly’s Amato OAN News TV segment here
A few hours later, in a matter of self-preservation, Gulf Cooperation Council partner, Saudi Arabia, cobbled together “over 10 countries to participate in these (combat) operations to prevent Yemen from falling,” Saudi Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir said at a news conference in the US. The Saudi airstrikes launched at approximately 7p.m. “The use of force is always the last resort; it is with great reluctance that we took this step, along with our partners in the [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries as well as outside of the GCC countries,” Al-Jubeir said.
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