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MSC-operated ship captured by Iranian forces

MSC told Container News that it is working to secure the release of one of its operated ships that was seized by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the Persian Gulf on 13 April.

The 2020-built 15,000 TEU MSC Aries, which the Swiss/Italian liner operator had bareboat-chartered from UK-based Zodiac Maritime for 10 years, was boarded by “Iranian authorities” via helicopter around 2.43 am local time. The ship has been diverted towards Iran.

Security company Ambrey Analytics said it had seen a video of three men fast-roping from a helicopter hovering above MSC Aries, which was originally heading for Jawaharlal Nehru Port after departing from Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa Port on 12 April.

United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) stated that an “unidentified vessel” had been boarded and captured by “regional forces” about 50 nautical miles northeast of Fujairah.

MSC Aries was crewed by 25 men and the Philippines’ foreign ministry said it is trying to confirm if any of the seafarers are Filipinos.

MSC said, “We’re working closely with the relevant authorities to ensure their wellbeing, and safe return of the vessel.”

Zodiac Maritime told Container News’ that MSC is responsible for the MSC Aries’ management and operations. The company explained, “Title to the vessel is held by Gortal Shipping Inc as financier and she has been leased to MSC on a long-term basis. Gortal is affiliated with Zodiac Maritime.”

It is likely that MSC Aries, which has the Portuguese flag of Madeira, was targeted as Zodiac Maritime is owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer. Iran-backed Houthi rebels have been targeting ships with links to Israel and its ally, the United States, in the Red Sea, causing many ships to reroute around the Cape of Good Hope. In November 2023, Houthis captured and detained the NYK Line-operated car carrier Galaxy Leader, which the Japanese group chartered from tonnage provider Ray Car Carriers, which is owned by Israeli tycoon Abraham Ungar.

Several of MSC’s ships have been targeted before, without any casualties.

On 26 December 2023, the 8,204 TEU MSC United VIII was attacked while transiting the Red Sea, en route from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan. The crew notified a nearby coalition taskforce warship and undertook evasive manoeuvres.

More recently, on 7 April, the 4,056 TEU MSC Gina and MSC Grace F, a multi-purpose vessel, had missiles fired at them, but dodged.

Xeneta’s chief analyst, Peter Sand, said that the capture of MSC Aries will threaten Middle East trade lanes. “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,” he noted.

Sand added, “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. 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.”

Martina Li
Asia Correspondent

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