COPENHAGEN - Denmark's Maersk shipping said on Thursday it insisted on the release of a vessel and crew seized by Iran, adding it assumed the incident was related to a 2005 court case over uncollected cargo.
The Marshall Islands-flagged Maersk Tigris container ship was detained by Iranian forces in the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday, spurring the United States to send military vessels to monitor the situation.
Maersk had chartered the ship, which is owned by undisclosed private investors. The firm met with Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization Wednesday and said the company "must presume" the seizure was related to the long-running cargo dispute.
"We have however not received any written or formal confirmation that the seizure and the cargo case are connected," the company said in a statement.
"We must insist that the crew and vessel are released as soon as possible. The crew is not employed by Maersk Line, nor is the vessel owned by Maersk Line. Maersk Tigris and its crew are thus not in any way party to the case," the company statement added.
Maersk, the world's biggest container shipping line, said it had agreed to pay an Iranian company $163,000 after an Iranian court ruling in February that related to a dispute about 10 container boxes transported to Dubai in 2005.
"The Iranian company appealed the case, seeking a higher compensation," Maersk said. "Only today, 30 April, have we learnt that the appeal court has ruled Maersk Line to pay $3.6 million. As we do not have the details of the ruling, we are not able to comment hereon, nor at this point speculate on our options."
The incident comes at a critical juncture in U.S.-Iranian relations, which could improve if a nuclear deal is clinched between Tehran and six world powers, including Washington.
The Maersk Tigris was anchored at 1003 GMT Thursday not far off Iran's mainland and close to the major Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, according to Reuters ship tracking data. Iran's navy fired shots during the ship's seizure, but there was no damage or injuries to the crew.
There were 24 crew members on the vessel, mostly from Eastern Europe and Asia, and also a British national among them.
It was the second ship in less than a week to be approached by Iranian patrol boats. Earlier the U.S.-flagged Maersk Kensington, also owned by Maersk Line, was followed but no shots were fired, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, adding that the incidents showed "a pattern of harassment.”
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarid said separately Wednesday Tehran "will respect international navigation in the Gulf."