Diplomacy

Iran Releases Cargo Ship It Seized Last Month After “Ransom” Agreement Reached

After an agreement by the Danish shipping company Maersk to pay a settlement that has been called a “ransom” by a legal scholar, Iran has released the Maersk Tigris, the cargo ship it seized last month in an international shipping lane, The New York Times reported today.

The Maersk Line, the Danish shipping giant, confirmed in a statement that the vessel and its 24-member crew, forced to anchor near Iran’s southern port of Bandar Abbas since its seizure on April 28, were now free and en route to the port of Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates.

The Maersk Tigris is registered in the Marshall Islands. It is managed and staffed by Rickmers Shipmanagement, a subsidiary of Germany’s Rickmers Group, a maritime services company, which reported that the crew was in good condition. …

Iranian officials have said the ship was impounded under a civil court order to enforce payment of a $3.6 million cargo debt they said was owed by Maersk Line from a 10-year-old lawsuit.

Law professor Eugene Kontorovich argued in The Washington Post that the payment was a ransom.

It appears Iran is essentially seizing vessels for ransom, or charging a selective toll on transit through international straits. …

The Islamic Republic has no legal authority to seize the ship. Releasing it on payment of money is not piracy, because that can only committed by non-state actors, but it is definitely a shake-down, and an assertion of general sovereign rights over international shipping lanes. It is likely not the last such ransom Iran will demand.

Kontorovich had previously explained that even if Iran had a monetary dispute with Maersk, seizing the ship at sea and holding its crew represented “flagrant” violations of international law.

Last week at New York University, Iranian foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif justified the illegal seizure of the cargo ship.

The seizure of the Maersk Tigris represented a challenge to America’s guarantee of safety to global shipping. The payment of the ransom with no negative consequences for Iran means that the challenge remains unanswered.

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