VIDEO: Iran seizes Israeli-linked MSC Aries

Written by Nick Blenkey
Iranian personnel landed on MSC Aries from helicoptert

Screengrab from YouTube video

With two of its ships having previously been attacked by Houthi missiles, with one of them, the MSC Sky II, receiving damage, Mediterranean Shipping Corporation must be aware of the dangers of routing vessels through politically troubled waters. Now, as widely reported over the weekend, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy on Saturday seized the Portuguese-flagged containership MSC Aries, which is leased by MSC from Zodiac Maritime affiliated Gortal Shipping Inc., part of the Zodiac Group, owned by the Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer.

In a post on X formerly Twitter, Iranian state controlled news agency IRNA described the ship as “linked to the Zionist regime.”

Maritime AI specialist Windward says the attack “was not completely a surprise to shippers, who are learning to be proactive about potential disruptions.” Windward, says that its data shows that for the week prior to the seizure there was a 450% increase in destination updates in the Arabian Gulf. Vessels began showing patterns of evasion like vessels traversing the Red Sea with notices like “armed guards on-board”, “no connection to Israel”, and “all crew Chinese/Syrian/Russian”. Some vessels made U-turns in the area and some of them drifted in a “wait and see” pattern.

“An already bad situation in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden has just got worse and could put ocean freight container imports and oil exports in the Middle East at risk,” said Peter Sand, chief analyst at Xeneta, when news of the MSC Aries incident broke. “We don’t yet know the full details of the incident in the Strait of Hormuz, but any widening of the conflict which has already resulted in huge disruption to ocean freight services in the Red Sea region would be extremely concerning. For example, Dubai is a regional hub for imports as well as sea-air corridors, with containers arriving by ocean via the Strait of Hormuz for onward travel by air to Europe and North America. If ships are impacted from sailing into the Arabian Gulf then the disruption would be considerable.”

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) notes that the MSC Aries was seized 50 nautical miles north-east of Fujairah, United Arab Emirate and called the action “a direct contravention of international law and an assault on the fundamental principle of freedom of navigation.”

“This reprehensible attack against a merchant ship once again places innocent seafarers on the front lines of geopolitical conflict,” said ICS Secretary General Guy Platten. “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.”

ICS advised that ships transiting the region should conduct a thorough threat assessment and liaise closely with military forces to ensure they are fully protected against further possible aggression by Iranian forces.”

In a threat circular released following the seizure of the MSC Aries, maritime security specialist Ambrey notes that Iran has threatened retaliation for the killing of an IRGC general in an Israeli airstrike on Damascus, Syria, and that the increased threat to Israel affiliated shipping is assessed to persist in the Gulf of Oman and ArabianSea. Vessels transiting the Indian Ocean should conduct thorough affiliation checks and at-risk vessels are advised to reconsider transiting the Strait of Hormuz during this phase of heightened risk.

Read the full Ambrey assessment and suggested mitigation measures HERE

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