Iran Seizes Portuguese-Flagged Container Ship

AI generated image of a container ship flying the Portuguese flag
Updated Published

On April 13, Iran seized a Portuguese-flagged container ship, the MSC Aries, in the Strait of Hormuz, citing violations of maritime laws. Iran's foreign ministry confirmed the seizure on Monday, linking the vessel to Israel.

This action by Iran's Revolutionary Guards follows Tehran's threats to retaliate after a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Damascus on April 1. Iran had previously warned it could close the vital shipping route.

"The vessel was diverted into Iran's territorial waters as a result of violating maritime laws and not answering calls made by Iranian authorities," said Nasser Kanaani, a spokesperson for Iran's foreign ministry.

Over the weekend, Iran launched its first direct attack on Israeli territory using missiles and explosive drones, which Tehran described as self-defense in response to the consulate bombing.

The state-run IRNA news agency reported that Guards forces boarded the MSC Aries via helicopter and redirected it into Iranian waters.

MSC, the company operating the Aries, confirmed the seizure and stated that it is coordinating with relevant authorities to ensure the ship's safe return and the wellbeing of its 25 crew members.

Zodiac Maritime, whose affiliate Gortal Shipping leases the Aries to MSC, clarified that MSC oversees all activities related to the vessel. Zodiac is partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.

The incident has heightened tensions across the Middle East, following Israel's military actions in Gaza since October and subsequent conflicts involving Israel or the United States with Iranian-aligned groups across the region.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz accused Iran of piracy in response to the seizure. Meanwhile, Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers' Federation, emphasized the need to protect "innocent seafarers" from conflicts beyond their control.

The International Chamber of Shipping condemned the seizure as a "flagrant breach of international law and an assault on freedom of navigation".

Additionally, recent assaults on merchant shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthis have disrupted the global maritime transport chain and affected trade and port activities in the Gulf region and the Gulf of Oman.

Patrick Verhoeven, managing director of the International Association of Ports and Harbors, warned that the seizure of the MSC Aries "has the potential to further disrupt cargo transits in and out of the region, which will impact all of our member ports, one way or another".