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Apr 29, 2015 6:18 AM

Shipping company says crew of vessel seized by Iran is safe

The Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) The operator of a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo vessel boarded by Iranian forces as it was traversing the Strait of Hormuz said Wednesday it has confirmed the crew is safe but that the company is still trying to determine why the ship was seized the previous day by Iran.

The MV Maresk Tigris was en route Wednesday to Bandar Abbas, the main port for Iran's navy, under escort by Iranian patrol boats, according to Maersk Line, the company that had chartered it. Tehran has not offered any clarification on the incident, which comes at a critical time during Iran's relations with the United States and the West.

Cor Radings, a spokesman for the ship's operator, Rickmers Ship Management in Singapore, said the company had been in touch by phone with the crew earlier in the day.

"We have had the confirmation that they are in relatively good condition and safe on board the ship," he said.

Iranian forces remain on board the ship, Radings said, adding there has been no contact yet with Iranian authorities.

Iranian forces boarded the MV Maresk Tigris on Tuesday after firing warning shots across the bridge, prompting the U.S. Navy to dispatch a destroyer and a plane to the area in response.

Radings confirmed reports that there were no Americans on board, identifying the 24 people crew members as "mainly from Eastern Europe and Asia." He said the ship was owned by "private investors" but would not elaborate.

Iranian state television on Tuesday said the crew members were from Britain, Bulgaria, Romania and Myanmar and that the ship was seized based on a court order due to unspecified violations. Iranian officials could not be reached for comment.

Danish shipper Maersk Line chartered the container ship and was hauling commercial goods and had no "special cargo" such as military equipment, said Radings, speaking by phone from Spain.

Maersk Line spokesman Michael Storgaard would only identify the goods on board as "general cargo" and said his company was still trying to determine why the Iranians had boarded the ship.

"We are not able at this point to establish or confirm the reason behind the seizure," Storgaard said, adding the ship is en route to Bandar Abbas under Iranian escort.

The U.S., other world powers and Iran are trying to hammer out a final deal over Iran's nuclear program. Last week, the U.S. Navy dispatched an aircraft carrier and guided missile cruiser to the Arabian Sea amid worries that a convoy of Iranian cargo ships was headed to Yemen to deliver arms to the Shiite rebels fighting to take over Yemen.

In Tuesday's incident, the intercepted ship was traveling through the narrow Strait, which is technically Iranian and Omani territorial waters, but under international agreement is open to foreign ships making an innocent passage, according to the Pentagon.

It wasn't clear whether the ship had strayed off course into coastal waters not protected by that agreement.


Associated Press writer Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this story.


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