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US State Department dodges questions as to whether or not it has demanded Iran release seized container ship Maersk Tigris

San Francisco: US State Department officials were evasive on Friday as to whether or not the administration has yet asked Iran to release the seized container ship Maersk Tigris.

“We continue to monitor the situation. We are in touch with the Marshall Islands,” said Jeff Rathke, a spokesman for State when asked what action the US has taken to recover the Marshall Islands-flagged ship which was apprehended by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday. When asked again, Rathke had nothing to add.

The ship and its 24-man crew have been held at anchor in Qeshm near Bandar Abbas, home of Iran’s biggest naval base, since Tuesday.

Iran officials have said the vessel and its personnel will be released on the payment of $3.6m as per an Iranian court ruling pertaining to a 10-year-old alleged commercial debt owed to an Iranian business by Maersk, the Danish contractors of the Maersk Tigris (62,292 dwt, built 2014).

The US Navy started “accompanying” US-flagged vessels in the Strait on Thursday, a less aggressive tactic than “escorting” where boats are closely shadowed by a military ship. And on Friday it appeared to be open to accompanying ships of other countries, such as Britain.

“Our current plans are for accompanying US-flagged ships, although there are discussions with other nations to include their vessels as well,” Colonel Patrick Ryder of Central Command (which oversees forces in the Middle East) told reporters in a teleconference.

Earlier in the week the State Department refused to condemn Iran for the seizure but a spokeswoman did say the US “has full authority and responsibility for security and defense matters in or relating to the Marshall Islands”.

However, the Pentagon has said that no specific treaty obligates it to use military force in defence of Marshall Islands vessels, but it is committed to maintaining freedom of navigation.

Donal Scully

With 28 years experience writing and editing for newspapers in the UK and Hong Kong, Donal is now based in California from where he covers the Americas for Splash as well as ensuring the site is loaded through the Western Hemisphere timezone.
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