May 6, 2015 12:51 PM

Iran says it will release seized Maersk ship after fine paid

The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) A Marshal Islands-flagged cargo vessel seized by Iranian forces as it traversed the Strait of Hormuz last month likely will be released in two days after a fine is paid, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The April 28 seizure of MV Maersk Tigris followed a legal complaint by an Iranian private company, Marzieh Afkham told reporters.

"Based on the information we have acquired, it is likely that the dispute will be settled within the next two days," she said.

Iranian forces boarded the ship after firing warning shots, later taking it to Bandar Abbas, the main port of Iran's navy, under escort by Iranian patrol boats. Danish shipping company Maersk Line, which chartered the container ship from Rickmers Ship Management in Singapore, insisted it had no "special cargo" such as military equipment.

The incident came at a critical time in Iran's relations with the West, as talks on Tehran's contested nuclear program continue and frictions rise amid a U.S.-backed campaign by a Saudi-led coalition carrying out airstrikes against Iranian-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen.

Maersk Line spokesman Michael Storgaard said Wednesday that the company had a "constructive dialogue with the Iranian courts" and was working toward "the safe release of the crew and vessel."

Rickmers spokesman Cor Radings declined to comment on the possible fine, reiterating only that his organization was in dialogue with the Iranian courts.

Following the Maersk incident, Washington adopted a policy change, allowing any U.S.-flagged ship to be accompanied by Navy warships through the narrow strait, which includes Iranian territorial waters. Navy ships are positioned nearby and are ready to respond if needed, but they do not actually escort a vessel.

The Strait of Hormuz is the route for about a fifth of the world's oil and is only about 33 kilometers (21 miles) wide at its narrowest point. Ships traversing the chokepoint have even less room to maneuver.

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Associated Press writers Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

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