Maersk Tigris expected to be released within daysMay 7, 2015 in Iran
In a statement today, Maersk announced that they had provided a letter of undertaking relating to a original 10-year old cargo case that resulted in last week’s seizure of container vessel Maersk Tigris by Iranian Authorities. Maersk added, “We are continuing to do everything we can to assist in the safe release of the crew and vessel.”
On 28 April, Iranian Revolutionary Guards forces boarded the Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship in the Gulf. The container ship had been following a normal commercial route, sailing from the Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, bound for the UAE port of Jebel Ali. The vessel was anchored off the Iranian coast between the islands of Qeshm and Hormuz when Iranian patrol boats fired warning shots across its bow and ordered it deeper into Iranian waters. The vessel issued a distress call which was received by US forces operating in the region. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps naval units seized the vessel and its crew. The vessel’s manager, Singapore-based Rickmers Shipmanagement, reported that there were 24 crew members, mostly from Eastern Europe and Asia. Maersk reported on 29 April that the crew on board are safe and “in good spirits.” The carrier remains in close contact with the Danish Foreign Ministry.
Iranian maintains that the ship’s seizure is a civil matter with no military or political dimension.
Two reports have emerged regarding the reasons for the ship’s capture. Financial Times and other sources report that the ship was taken as the result of a 2005 incident in which ten shipping containers were delivered by Maersk to Dubai for Pars Tala’eyeh Oil Products Company. The containers were disposed of when no one came forward to claim them. In the initial legal proceedings, Iranian courts found in favour of Maersk, but a February 2015 appeal overturned the ruling, fining Maersk $3.6 million. Maersk claims it was unaware of the appeal.
Meanwhile, Hellenic Shipping News has reported information from Hamidreza Jahanian, managing-Director of Pars Tala’eyeh Oil Products Company. Jahanian reports that the seizure stems from a 2003 dispute wherein “a number of containers sent by Pars Tala’eyeh Oil Products Company through the Maersk Line Shipping Company were not delivered to the customer in Jebel Ali in 2003.” He adds that Maersk had some differences with its representative in Iran, and “refrained from delivering the goods to the customer.” Jahanian states that Pars Tala’eyeh Oil Products Company filed a lawsuit, and the court ruled in favour of the Iranian company. They maintain that Maersk owes $10 million, the estimated amount the company incurred in losses.
Iran’s Port and Maritime Organization (IPMO) sanctioned the vessel’s detention following the court ruling. The Iranian company has warned that vessel could be put up for auction if compensation is not paid by Maersk. Maersk demanded legal documentation from Iran regarding the ship’s seizure. As of 4 May, the company says it had not received written confirmation of court rulings or the ship arrest warrant. A statement from Maersk reads, “We have […] not received any written notification or similar pertaining to the claim or the seizure of the vessel. We are therefore not able to confirm whether or not this is the actual reason behind the seizure. We will continue our efforts to obtain more information.”
Lawyers have stated that maritime law allows a nation to arrest a foreign ship based on this type of dispute under certain conditions: the ship needs to be in port, and the seized ship must be the ship against which the claim was filed.
With regard to the 2005 case, the Maersk Tigris was not the ship in question, nor was it at port. Maersk Tigris was in international waters when warning shots were fired, and the vessel was instructed to sail into Iranian waters. Further, despite the name, the Maersk Tigris is not owned by Maersk; it is chartered by them. The vessel is owned by private equity fund Oaktree Capital Management. Therefore, its seizure cannot be used to settle the claim against Maersk. Finally, there are no grounds which allow Iran to detain the vessel’s crew. As such, many have stated that the taking of the vessel is a violation of international maritime law.
The situation is expected to be resolved in the coming days. Iranian state-run news agency IRNA quoted Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham as telling a news conference, “The negotiations between the private complainant and the other party are going on and possibly the issue will be resolved in a day or two.”