ANKARA/LONDON (Reuters) - Iran has released a Marshall-Islands flagged container ship and its crew which were seized last month in one of the world’s major oil shipping lanes, the vessel’s operator said on Thursday.
The vessel was diverted on April 28 by Iranian patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz, prompting the United States to send vessels to monitor the situation and to accompany U.S.-flagged vessels passing through the strait.
Iran had said the vessel would be let go once a years-old debt case with the ship’s charterer Maersk Line was settled.
“Rickmers Group is pleased to report today its managed container vessel Maersk Tigris with 24 crew members on board has been officially released by Iranian authorities following an order from the court in Bandar Abbas, Iran,” the operator and manager said in a statement.
“Earlier Maersk Line put up a security in relation to the underlying court case. All crew are in a good condition. The news has been conveyed to the families of the seafarers.”
The Maersk incident coincided with heightened tension between regional arch-rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia over the civil war in Yemen, in which they support opposing sides.
Maersk, the world’s top container shipping line, had called for the release of the vessel and its crew, who are mostly from Eastern Europe and Asia, and also include a British national.
“The release follows a constructive dialogue with the Iranian authorities, including the Ports and Maritime Organization, and the provision of a letter of undertaking in relation to the underlying cargo case,” Maersk Line said in a separate statement.
“We will continue our dialogue with the aim to fully resolve the cargo case.”
Rickmers said the vessel would continue on its scheduled voyage to the port of Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates where company representatives would attend the crew and the vessel.
After the statements, Reuters ship tracking data showed the vessel was sailing into the Strait of Hormuz and away from the position where it had been anchored for several days close to the major Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.
Denmark’s Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said his country hoped “similar cases will not occur in the future”.
“It is obviously a priority that ... that ships can navigate the area around the Persian Gulf. We have also made that clear in our contact with the Iranian authorities,” Lidegaard said on Thursday.
The vessel is owned by undisclosed private investors, according to Rickmers.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA, citing an informed source, said earlier on Thursday the Iranian Ports and Shipping Organization would issue a statement in a few hours on the details of the release of the Maersk Tigris.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said on Wednesday that the negotiations between “the private complainant and the other party were going on”.
The U.S. Navy had stopped accompanying commercial ships on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said.
U.S. Navy ships started accompanying U.S.-flagged commercial vessels through the Strait on April 30, a decision taken following the Maersk Tigris’ seizure and after Iranian ships shadowed the U.S.-flagged Maersk Kensington on April 24. The Pentagon has said at the time those incidents showed “a pattern of harassment”.
Additional reporting by Teis Jensen in Copenhagen, Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Jonathan Saul; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt