13 Apr 2024, 17:44
Update : 13 Apr 2024, 23:15

Iran Guards seize vessel 'related' to Israel in Gulf: state media

TEHRAN, April  13, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Iran's Revolutionary Guards seized a
container ship "related to the Zionist regime (Israel)" in the Gulf on
Saturday, state media reported, with tensions soaring in the region.

The ship's operator, the Italian-Swiss group MSC, later confirmed Iranian
authorities had boarded it.

Israel called it "a pirate operation" and demanded that the Guards be
declared a "terrorist organisation" by the European Union.

A container ship "was seized by the Sepah (Guards) Navy Special Forces by
carrying out a heliborne operation," state news agency IRNA reported, naming it
as the MSC Aries.

It added that the operation took place "near the Strait of Hormuz" and
"this ship has now been directed towards the territorial waters" of Iran.

MSC confirmed the Aries had "been boarded by Iranian authorities via
helicopter as she passed the Strait of Hormuz" on Saturday morning.

It said that 25 crew were onboard and that it was "working closely with the
relevant authorities to ensure their wellbeing, and safe return of the vessel".

The Strait of Hormuz connects the Gulf with the Indian Ocean and, according
to the US Energy Information Administration, more than a fifth of annual global
oil consumption passes through it each year.

A video shared on social media appeared to show people descending from a
helicopter onto the deck of the Aries using a rope.

Responding to the seizure, Israel's foreign minister Israel Katz said in a
post on X that Iran had conducted "a pirate operation in violation of
international law".

"I call on the European Union and the free world to immediately declare the
Iranian Revolutionary Guards corps as a terrorist organisation and to sanction
Iran now", he added.

- Portuguese flag -

Vessel tracking websites, and, say MSC
Aries is a Portuguese-flagged container ship and gave its last reported
position as in the Gulf.

The United States said Friday it was sending military reinforcements to the
region, after Iran vowed retaliation for a deadly strike on the consular annexe
of its Damascus embassy almost two weeks ago.

The April 1 strike killed at least seven members of Iran's Revolutionary
Guards, including two generals.

US President Joe Biden said Friday that he expected Iran to strike Israel,
which was widely blamed for the consulate attack, "sooner rather than later".

Analyst Karim Bitar said he doubted Saturday's ship seizure alone amounted
to the anticipated Iranian retaliation.

"After the US warnings... if what happened turns out to be Iran's response,
it would appear as anti-climactic," said Bitar, associate researcher at the
Institute for International and Strategic Affairs in Paris.

"So, either this is not part of Iran's response or it is a first step
towards a wider escalation," he said.

"It would mean that the Iranians are going to progressively test the limits
of the United States and of the Israelis."

The surging tensions come against the backdrop of Israel's war against
Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza, now in its seventh month.

The conflict has drawn in regional actors including Iran-backed groups in
Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

Yemen's Iran-backed Huthi rebels have carried out dozens of missile and
drone attacks against shipping in the Red Sea, and in November seized an
Israel-linked cargo vessel, the Galaxy Leader. The crew are still being held.

Iran has supported Hamas, but repeatedly denied direct involvement in the
October 7 attack on Israel that started the war.

In January, it seized a ship off the coast of Oman in retaliation for what
it described as the "theft" by the United States of its oil.

Iran's navy had boarded the Greek-owned St Nikolas before later releasing
the crew members.


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