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Iran denies detaining Maersk crew

Maersk Tigris (PHOTO: marine Traffic.com)

Iran has released the Maersk Tigris cargo vessel seized by its patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz last week over a business dispute, official media said on Thursday.

“An informed source at the Ports and Maritime Organisation said the Maersk ship was free” to leave the country, the IRNA state news agency reported.

It gave no further details but said an official statement would be issued later on the vessel’s release.

Iran has said it seized the container ship because of a commercial dispute with Denmark’s Maersk group, which chartered the Marshall Islands-flagged vessel.

The move caused concern for the security of shipping lanes in the strategic strait and prompted the United States to send vessels to monitor the situation.

In a sign of reduced tensions, the Pentagon said Wednesday that the US Navy had halted a mission to accompany American-flagged vessels passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

US warships will however remain in the area to conduct “routine maritime security operations,” spokesman Col. Steven Warren told reporters.

On Wednesday, Tehran denied it had detained the ship’s 24 crew members, saying they were benefiting from diplomatic assistance.

Iranian state TV reported that the crew members were from Bulgaria, Burma [Myanmar], Romania and Britain.

The seizure on 28 April was in connection with an Iranian court order for Maersk to pay $3.6 million (3.2 million euros) in damages to Iranian firm Pars Oil Products Talayieh over cargo that allegedly was not delivered.

Maersk had urged Iran to release the crew, saying it did not own the Marshall Islands-flagged vessel, which was carrying cargo for Maersk under contract, and that crew members were not its employees.

But Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said Wednesday the crew had never been in detention.

“The 24 members of the ship’s crew are free. They are benefiting from consular assistance and from our point of view they are not connected with the seizure of the vessel,” she said.

“Negotiations are continuing with the private company that has filed the complaint with the other party, and it is possible that this case will be resolved in one or two days.”

Afkham reiterated that the dispute was “a legal case, not a political or military case”.