By Sabina Zawadzki and Jonathan Saul / www.reuters.com / April 29th, 2015
(Reuters) - Danish shipping company Maersk said on Wednesday the crew of the Maersk Tigris container ship were safe and "in good spirits" after Iranian authorities seized the vessel in the Strait of Hormuz the previous day.
Iranian patrol boats fired warning shots as they intercepted the vessel, stoking tensions in one of the world's busiest oil shipping lanes and spurring the United States to send military vessels to monitor the situation.
The 65,000-tonne, Marshall Islands-flagged Maersk Tigris is managed and crewed by Rickmers Shipmanagement but on hire to Maersk Line, the shipping unit of Maersk, the world's largest container shipping concern.
Maersk said it was in dialogue with the Danish Foreign Ministry and seeking more information as it still did not know the reason for the diversion of the Maersk Tigris.
Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization said a court had ordered the ship seized after ruling against Maersk Line in a case about debts brought by Pars Talaie, an Iranian company.
Tasnim, an Iranian news agency, quoted a Pars Talaie lawyer as saying the debt involved a cargo that Pars Talaie hired Maersk to take from the Iranian port of Abadan to Dubai more than a decade ago but which had never arrived.
Maersk said it was not the owner of the ship and that it was trying to establish the facts of any legal case. Rickmers said the Maersk Tigris was owned by "various private investors".
Maersk said the vessel was confronted in international waters while Rickmers said the incident occurred in a widely recognized international shipping lane.
INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING LANE
"The information we had from the (ship's) master at the time of the approach by the Iranian navy ... was that he was at that particular time...in an international shipping lane," Rickmers spokesman Cor Radings said.
"It is the Strait of Hormuz, which is literally in Iranian waters. But there is an internationally acknowledged shipping corridor in international waters which is used by commercial shipping."
Radings said there were 24 crew members on the vessel, mostly from eastern Europe and Asia although there was also a British national among them. The crew were "in relatively good condition and safe" onboard the vessel, which was not damaged.
"We have now been able to communicate with the vessel which we were unable to do for quite a long period after she was taken deeper into Iranian waters. We have no official contact with the Iranians so far or any official documentation or notification."
Ship tracking data on Reuters showed the vessel was anchored at 05:30 a.m. EDT on Wednesday not far off Iran's mainland and close to the major Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.
The incident occurred at a critical juncture in U.S.-Iranian relations, which could thaw should a tentative nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers including Washington be clinched. It also coincides with heightened tension between regional arch-rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia over the escalating civil war in Yemen in which they support opposing sides.
A Maersk statement said: "We are continuing our efforts to obtain more information about (Iran's) seizure - in international waters - of Maersk Tigris. We are not able at this point to establish or confirm the reason behind the seizure."
The Danish Foreign Ministry said it was monitoring the situation closely and in contact with Maersk.
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