17 Indians among 25 crew onboard Israel-linked cargo vessel seized by Iran

India is in touch with the Iranian authorities through diplomatic channels, both in Tehran and in Delhi, sources said

April 13, 2024 03:09 pm | Updated April 14, 2024 01:54 am IST - New Delhi

This image made from a video provided to The Associated Press by a Mideast defense official shows a helicopter raid targeting a vessel near the Strait of Hormuz on April 13, 2024. A video seen by The Associated Press shows commandos raiding a ship near the Strait of Hormuz by helicopter, an attack a Mideast defense official attributed to Iran amid wider tensions between Tehran and the West.

This image made from a video provided to The Associated Press by a Mideast defense official shows a helicopter raid targeting a vessel near the Strait of Hormuz on April 13, 2024. A video seen by The Associated Press shows commandos raiding a ship near the Strait of Hormuz by helicopter, an attack a Mideast defense official attributed to Iran amid wider tensions between Tehran and the West. | Photo Credit: AP

India is in touch with Iranian authorities after an Israel-affiliated container vessel MSC Aries was seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in the Strait of Hormuz on April 13. The 25 crew onboard the Portuguese-flagged vessel includes 17 Indians including the Master, four Filipinos, two Pakistanis, one Russian and one Estonian, according to official sources.

“We are aware that a cargo ship ‘MSC Aries’ has been taken control by Iran. We have learnt that there are 17 Indian nationals onboard. We are in touch with the Iranian authorities through diplomatic channels, both in Tehran and in Delhi, to ensure security, welfare and early release of Indian nationals,” official sources said. The vessel was sailing from United Arab Emirates to India when the incident occurred.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard seizes a container ship near Strait of Hormuz amid tensions with Israel | Video Credit: Special Arrangement

A video that went viral on social media platform ‘X’ showed Revolutionary Guard commandos rappelling from a helicopter onto the vessel. This is the latest escalation in the region which has been on edge in the last few months. This incident is also an escalation to the ongoing Red Sea crisis. Since the Israel offensive in Gaza, Houthi rebels in Yemen have been targetting Israeli-linked commercial shipping on the high seas with ballistic missiles and drones.

In the last 48 hours, Israel and the U.S. have been gearing up for possible missile and drone attacks Iran, directly or through its proxies in the region, as a retaliation against the recent Israeli air strike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus that killed senior Iranian personnel.

Iranian state-run news agency IRNA quoted an informed source to confirm the seizure of the “foreign vessel” in the Persian Gulf, near the Strait of Hormuz on ‘X’ while other Iranian media reported that the vessel was MSC Aries.

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The UK’s Maritime Trade Operations agency too confirmed the incident, only stating that the ship had been seized by “regional authorities” off the coast of Fujairah in the UAE.

The vessel Aries is owned by London-headquartered Zodiac Maritime owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer and chartered to Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) headquartered in Switzerland.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps have seized a Portuguese civilian cargo ship, belonging to an EU member, claiming Israeli ownership, Israel Katz, Israel’s minister of foreign affairs said on ‘X’. Calling it a “pirate operation” in violation of international law, he added, “I call on the European Union and the free world to immediately declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guards corps as a terrorist organization and to sanction Iran now.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin held a telephonic conversation with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant to discuss “urgent regional threats” and “reiterated unwavering U.S. support for Israel’s defense.” Mr. Austin made it clear that Israel could count on full U.S. support to defend Israel against any attacks by Iran and its regional proxies, the Pentagon Press Secretary Major General Pat Ryder said in a statement.

Adrienne Watson, Spokesperson of the U.S. White House National Security Council, condemned the seizure by Iran terming it a blatant violation of international law. “We strongly condemn the Iranian seizure of the Portuguese-flagged, British-owned MSC ARIES in international waters. The crew is comprised of Indian, Filipino, Pakistani, Russian & Estonian nationals. We call on Iran to release the vessel & its international crew immediately,” she said on X.

Seizing a civilian vessel without provocation is a blatant violation of international law, and an act of piracy by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, she further stated. “It must be condemned unequivocally, and we will work with our partners to hold Iran to account for its actions.”

In the backdrop of the Houthi attacks, Somali pirates have also become active with a string of piracy attempts in the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa. In response, Indian Navy has deployed in strength and thwarted several attempts. Since December till March 23 , Indian Navy’s overall effort towards this involved deployment of over 5000 personnel at sea, over 450 ship days (with over 21 ships deployed) and 900 hours of flying by the maritime surveillance aircraft to address threats in the maritime domain, Navy Chief Adm. R. Hari Kumar had stated as the effort under operation Sankalp completed 100 days.

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