Iran Says Crew of MSC Aries is Freed if Captain Goes with Crew

MSC containership
Iran purports the crew of the MSC-chartered vessel is freed if the captain goes with them and they leave the ship (file photo)

Published May 3, 2024 3:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

Following through on its earlier promise this week, Iran’s Foreign Ministry is reporting the 24 crewmembers aboard the seized containership MSC Aries are free to leave. However, they added that they could depart if the captain “cooperated,” with other reports saying they were requiring the captain to also leave and abandon his ship.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian told his counterpart in Estonia that the crew had been freed during a call that took place on Thursday, May 2. International leaders have been calling for Iran to release the crew. Iran previously made similar promises to the Pakistanis who have citizens aboard the ship and to the Portuguese which is the flag state for the ship.

So far, Iran has only let one person leave the ship and travel home. That was the sole female in the crew, a deck cadet from India. She was released days after the ship was seized on April 13. Since then, Iran has said it would hand the crewmembers over to their respective ambassadors while stating the crew was not under arrest.

Last week, Iran provided consular access to the crew. Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization at the beginning of this week also reported the crew is “in perfect health.” They said there was no concern regarding “their health, hygiene, welfare, and safety.”

In the same statements Iran however has reiterated its claims that the ship violated international maritime law. The Foreign Ministry is now citing the vessel as turning off its AIS signal while traveling in Iranian territorial waters. They contend the vessel was endangering the safety of navigation when it was seized as it neared the Strait of Hormuz.

MSC, which was the charterer and operator of the vessel, has not responded to the requests for confirmation of the release of the crew. Previously, MSC said it was working with the authorities and also trying to gain the release of the cargo.

The MSC Aries (158,000 dwt), which was built in 2020, is owned by affiliates of Zodiac Maritime the company in which Israeli shipping magnate Eyal Ofer is the lead investor. Iran seems intent on holding the vessel indefinitely.

Iran’s “humanitarian” effort came as leaders of the military again this week reiterated their threats to target other tankers in the Persian Gulf. They previously said Iran would continue to seize tankers in retaliation for any moves by the United States to seize Iranian oil.