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Iran seizes Israel-linked container vessel

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Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have seized an Israel-linked container ship in the latest escalation of hostilities between the Islamic republic and Israel.

The capture of the MSC Aries comes as Tehran vowed to respond to a suspected Israeli airstrike on the Iranian consular building in Damascus this month, which killed seven guards members, including two senior commanders.

A video posted online shows two soldier guards sliding from a helicopter on ropes to the deck of a 366m-long container ship in the Gulf of Oman.

The ship is operated by Geneva-based Mediterranean Shipping Company, the world’s largest container shipping line. It is owned by Gortal Shipping, a financial company affiliated with Zodiac Maritime, a company controlled by the Israeli Ofer family.

Israel Katz, the Israeli foreign minister, accused Iran of carrying out a “pirate operation.”

IRNA, Iran’s official news agency, said the Guards’ naval forces captured the ship after boarding it using a helicopter.

The seizure took place in the Gulf of Oman, near the critical chokepoint of the Strait of Hormuz, a vital maritime trade route through which much of the world’s crude shipments pass.

Iranian leaders have blamed Israel for the April 1 attack on its diplomatic mission and compared it to a direct strike against the republic. The assault sparked concerns that a full-blown regional war could erupt.

Hostilities in the region have intensified since Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, which killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials, and sparked the war in Gaza.

Iran-backed militants launched drones, rockets and missiles against Israel and US troops in the region as Israeli forces launched a retaliatory offensive against Hamas in Gaza that has killed more than 33,000 people, according to Palestinian officials.

Tensions also soared in the occupied West Bank on Saturday, with settlers burning Palestinian homes and cars in the village of al-Mughayyir after the disappearance of a 14-year-old Israeli. The army found his body and said he had been killed in a “terrorist attack”.

Iran has sought to avoid direct conflict with Israel and the United States and has indicated that its response to the April 1 strike on its consular building would be calibrated.

Iranian forces have previously seized oil tankers during periods of heightened tensions with the United States and other Western states.

The seizure of the MSC Aires is the first in waters off Iran since January, when Iranian forces seized the Greek tanker St Nikolas in a similar position.

MSC confirmed that the ship had been seized by “Iranian authorities”.

The vessel was operating a service for MSC from Khalifa Port in the United Arab Emirates to Nhava Sheva in Mumbai.

“It has since been diverted from its route to Iran,” the company said. He added that the ship had 25 crew members on board. “We are working closely with the relevant authorities to ensure their well-being and the safe return of the ship,” MSC said.

The UK’s Dubai-based Maritime Trade Operations Office said the ship had been “seized by regional authorities”.

A bulletin on the incident from Ambrey, a British maritime intelligence company, said Zodiac had faced “Iranian hostile acts” in the past due to its Israeli ownership.

“Israeli vessels are advised to reconsider their transit through the Strait of Hormuz,” Ambrey wrote.

The waters of the Strait of Hormuz, near where the MSC Aries was seized, provide the world’s most important route for tankers, carrying oil from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf producers to the rest of the world. They also provide an important route for container ships to and from Khalifa and Dubai’s sprawling Jebel Ali container port.

Container ships have mostly stopped plying the waters off Yemen since December, after the Iran-backed Houthis launched a series of attacks on ships linked to Israel, UK and the United States, claiming to act in support of the Palestinians in Gaza. However, the route through the Strait of Hormuz has not until now been of such concern.

The MSC Aries’ automatic identification system stopped transmitting shortly after the ship left Khalifa. Ships previously seized by Iran, including the St Nikolas, have generally been transported to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

News Source : www.ft.com
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