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Iran to release crew of seized Israel-linked ship – foreign minister

A Portuguese-flagged container ship was detained on April 13

FILE PHOTO: Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. ©  Sputnik / Vladimir Astapkovich

The crew of a Portuguese-flagged ship linked to Israel recently detained by Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), have been granted consular access and will be released, local media reported on Saturday, citing the Iranian foreign ministry.

The IRGC stormed an Israeli-operated container ship with a crew of 25, reportedly including Indian and Russian nationals, in the Persian Gulf on April 13 and took control of the vessel.

The MSC Aries was boarded as it transited the Strait of Hormuz. Once under the IRGC’s control, it was taken to Iranian territorial waters.

In a telephone call, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian reportedly told his Portuguese counterpart Paulo Rangel that Iran considers the release of the ship’s crew “as a humanitarian issue.”

“We have announced to their ambassadors in Tehran their access to consular services, release, and extradition,” the official said, as quoted by local media.

The Iranian foreign minister didn’t specify when the crew members would be released.

READ MORE: Iran seizes Israeli-run container ship (VIDEO)

According to Reuters, Iran’s foreign ministry said the Aries was seized for “violating maritime laws” and that there was no doubt it was linked to Israel.

The Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries is operated by Zodiac Maritime, a shipping firm owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer. At the time of the seizure, it was sailing past the Emirati port of Fujairah with its transponder switched off, the Associated Press reported. With Iran controlling the Strait of Hormuz and Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacking Israeli shipping interests in the Red Sea, it is standard practice for Israeli-linked vessels to disable their tracking data when sailing in the region.

The seizure of the Aries came two weeks after an alleged Israeli airstrike on the Iranian consulate in Syria’s capital Damascus. Seven officers of the IRGC’s Quds Force, including two generals, were reportedly killed in the attack.

The detention of the ship coincided with Iran’s retaliatory strike on Israel. On April 13, Tehran launched what is estimated to have been several hundred missiles and explosive drones on targets in the country.


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