The White House says it’s “monitoring” the seizure of a cargo ship by Iran, while Tehran said today that the Maersk Tigris isn’t leaving Shaheed Bahonar Port anytime soon.
“As of this morning, it is our understanding that the Maersk Tigris remains in the custody of the IRGC Navy. And we’re continuing to monitor the situation,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today. “We have not at this point received any reports of injuries to crew members. And, as we noted yesterday, according to information received from the vessel’s operators, there are no Americans onboard.”
“This is obviously a situation that we continue to monitor because we are committed to, as we discussed at some length last week, committed to ensuring freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in international waters.”
Maersk tweeted that the company was “pleased to learn that the crew is safe.” There are 34 crew members on the vessel.
“Maersk is in close dialogue with Rickmers Shipmanagement to explore options to help resolve this situation,” the shipping company added.
The shipped is flagged out of the Marshall Islands, a protectorate of the United States. “Our concerns about the interference with the Maersk Tigris, would be even more acute if an Iranian-armed — I’m sorry, a nuclear-armed Iranian Navy were conducting these kinds of intercepts,” Earnest shot back when asked if this latest act of aggression would undermine nuclear negotiations.
“I’m not going to offer up any — make any threats from here about the likelihood of imposing additional sanctions over this particular incident, but the — our approach to this is consistent — our approach to Iranian behavior is consistent with the approach that we’ve taken when it comes to sanctions, which is that we can have a conversation about their nuclear program, get them to make serious concessions when it comes to their nuclear program, in exchange for some sanctions relief for those concessions,” said the White House spokesman.
“But it would have no impact on our concerns about their behavior in a variety of other areas and would have no impact on the sanctions that are already in place against them as a result of their behavior in other areas.”
Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization deputy chief, Hadi Haqshenas, as saying that despite Al-Jazeera reports that the ship had been released “the vessel, Maersk Tigris, is still in custody.”
“The ship is still held in Shaheed Bahonar Port and the report about its release is hereby denied,” he said, saying that the military seized the ship at the request of his agency because of a court dispute over payments with Maersk.
Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, told Fox that the seizure was obviously “a response to the president of the United States last week dispatching naval power to the Straits of Hormuz, arguably the most important shipping lane in the world.”
“And what do they do? They do this and antagonize us. They antagonize the world. Taking a ship that is from the Marshall Islands, which we obviously have a deep relationship with,” Risch said.
“I mean, every problem we have in the Middle East has Iran’s fingerprints on it. And it just keeps getting worse, instead of getting better.”