New place for disruption to free maritime transport

2024/04/17 at 1:59 PM

On Saturday (13 April), commandos belonging to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps took over the MSC Aries container ship in an airborne attack. It occurred 50 nautical miles (92 kilometres) northeast of Fujairah, an area near the Strait of Hormuz, which is the entrance to the Persian Gulf.


This act of terrorism has created a new danger zone for free navigation. It is a consequence of the ongoing conflict in the Red Sea region – the gateway to the Suez Canal, which enables the shortest connection in maritime transport between Asia and Europe. Particularly, container ships and tankers are already avoiding the area due to rocket attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militia.


The MSC Aries container ship sails under the Portuguese flag and belongs to Gortal Shipping, a company registered in Great Britain. It is financially linked to Zodiac Maritime, which is controlled by Israeli billionaire Eyala Ofer. It was a sufficient reason for Iran’s militants to attack, similar to the Houthi attacks.

The vessel was forced to head to Iranian territorial waters. There are 25 crew members from different countries on board – India, the Philippines, Pakistan, Russia and Estonia. According to media reports, the attack was filmed by one of the crew members. On this basis, it is estimated that the helicopter used is a Russian Mi-17, which was previously used to attack Yemen’s Houthi. The seizure of the 15,000 TEU MSC Aries vessel came hours before Iran fired approximately 300 drones and missiles towards Israel in retaliation for the attack on the Iranian consulate in Syria on 1 April that killed seven revolutionary guards.


Representatives of the US and British governments called for the immediate release of the seized ship. British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps wrote on social media platform X: “The seizure of the cargo ship MSC Aries by Iran is unacceptable and a blatant violation of international law. We call for the unconditional release of the ship and its crew without delay”.

The White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson described the ship’s seizure as an act of “piracy” by Iran and a “gross violation of international law”. The capture of the container ship by Iranian forces was also condemned by the industry. Guy Platten, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping, wrote: “Iran’s seizure of the MSC Aries is a flagrant breach of international law and an assault on freedom of navigation. This reprehensible attack against a merchant ship once again places innocent seafarers on the front lines of geopolitical conflict. Our thoughts are with the 25 seafarers who are now captives of Iran, and with the families who are now in fear of their loved ones’ safety. Iran must release the ship as a matter of urgency”.


Peter Sand, chief analyst at Xenet, commented on the situation. “The already bad situation in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden has just gotten worse and may threaten the import of containerised sea freight and crude oil export in the Middle East. “We don’t yet know all the details of the Strait of Hormuz incident, but any extension of the conflict, which has already caused massive disruptions to shipping in the Red Sea region, would be extremely concerning.”

For example, Dubai is a regional import hub as well as a sea-air corridor. Containerised goods arrive there by sea through the Strait of Hormuz for further travel by air to Europe and North America. “If ships are affected by the threat of attacks while entering the Persian Gulf, the disruption will be significant,” Sand added.

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