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Iran says it has released Maersk ship

By Agencies in Teheran, Iran | China Daily | Updated: 2015-05-08 07:50

'No special cargo' aboard, company says; vessel's seizure defended as legally valid

The Iranian government released a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship on Thursday, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported.

The agency cited a source inside the Iranian Ports and Maritime Organization, saying that the organization was scheduled to issue a statement later in the day with details of the ship's release.

Iranian forces seized the MV Maersk Tigris on April 28 after firing warning shots across its bridge as it traversed the Strait of Hormuz. It was taken to Bandar Abbas, the main port of Iran's navy, under escort by Iranian patrol boats. The seizure stems from a legal complaint by a private Iranian company.

A day after the ship was impounded, Iran's Foreign Ministry defended the move as legally valid, saying the vessel was seized based on a court decision. Danish shipping company Maersk Line chartered the container ship from Singapore-based Rickmers Ship Management and said insists it carried no "special cargo" such as military equipment.

"Right now I cannot confirm anything. We will send out a statement if or when something happens," Maersk spokesman Michael Storgaard said in Copenhagen.

"The Maersk container ship was released, and it has left Iranian territorial waters," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham told the Students News Agency.

Afkham said on Wednesday that the negotiations between "the private complainant and the other party were going on".

Rickmers spokesman Cor Radings told The Associated Press in an e-mail that his company had heard the same Iranian media reports, but did not yet have confirmation that the ship had been released.

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

Following the Maersk incident, Washington adopted a policy change, allowing any US-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 US navy quietly stopped accompanying commercial ships on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said, noting that the original order to carry out the mission had only been for a brief period, which had ended.

The Strait of Hormuz is the route for about a fifth of the world's oil and is only about 33 km wide at its narrowest point.

AP - Reuters

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