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Iran Detains Cargo Ship

Michael Johnson

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) detained a commercial cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz, according to a statement made by the U.S. Navy on Tuesday. The seizure of the Maersk Tigris, and a similar encounter with a U.S.-flagged ship last week, shows Iran’s continued disruptiveness to trade in a vital shipping lane.

The Maersk Tigris, a 65,000-ton container ship, departed Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for the United Arab Emirates. However, upon reaching the Strait of Hormuz, IRGCN patrol boats ordered the vessel to deviate from its scheduled course in international waters and detour into Iranian territory. When the ship’s crew refused, the Iranians fired a warning shot across its bow, prompting the caption to send a distress signal to the U.S. military. The IRGCN then boarded the boat, docking it near Bandar Abbas.

A file photo of the Maersk Tigris. (Photo: Reuters)

In response, the U.S. Fifth Fleet stationed in Bahrain sent a Navy destroyer, the Farragut, and three other latorial ships to patrol the area. The military also increased reconnaissance flights to monitor any developments. Meanwhile, a Pentagon spokesman described the warning shot, as “inappropriate,” but said it was to early to tell if the IRGCN violated international conventions governing freedom of navigation.

Of the 24 crew members on board, none appear to be American. However, the Maersk Tigris sailed under the flag of the Marshall Islands, a country that enjoys a security compact with the United States. The agreement gives “the U.S. authority and responsibility for security and defense matters that relate to the Marshall Islands,” including its flagged vessels, according to State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke.

Iran’s actions appear to be linked to a decade-old dispute over 10 cargo containers shipped from Iran to the UAE that were never claimed, and ultimately discarded by the local authorities. Iranian courts found Maersk, a Danish company, liable for the containers, but the firm refused to pay.

The New York Times described “stopping a cargo ship at gunpoint to resolve a legal claim” as “highly unusual.” And, precedent suggests that the IRGCN, and ultimately the country’s leaders in Tehran, are a destabilizing force in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. Last Friday, Maersk Kensington, a U.S.-flagged ship was surrounded and followed in the Strait by four smaller vessels belonging to IRGCN, prompting the U.S. to issue a notice to mariners. Iranian leaders have also exacerbated tensions in the region by threatening to close the Strait on multiple occasions.