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Iran releases crew of seized MSC and Zodiac-linked container ship in ‘humanitarian act’

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Iran has freed the crew of the MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company-managed container ship that it hijacked last month.

Foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said the captain and the remaining 23 other seafarers would be allowed to leave the country.

But the 15,000-teu, Portugal-flagged MSC Aries (built 2020) will remain under Iran’s control, he added, according to Reuters.

The vessel was seized on 13 April in apparent retaliation for Israel’s bombing of Iran’s embassy complex in Syria.

An Indian cadet was allowed to fly home in April.

The crew consists of 17 other Indians, four Filipinos and others from Estonia, Pakistan and Russia.

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“The seized ship, which turned off its radar in Iran’s territorial waters and jeopardised the security of navigation, is under judicial detention,” Amir-Abdollahian said, according to a foreign ministry post on X late on Thursday night.

The minister described the crew release as a humanitarian act.

MSC is also the operator and charterer of the MSC Aries, which is owned by an affiliate of UK-based Zodiac Maritime, owned by Israeli tycoon Eyal Ofer, who is based in Monaco.

At the end of April, after receiving criticism from the International Maritime Organization over the hijacking, Tehran indicated that the crew could be allowed out of the country soon.

‘Serious concern’

“The humanitarian issue of the release of the ship’s crew is of serious concern to us,” Amir-Abdollahian told his Portuguese counterpart, Paulo Rangel, during a telephone conversation at the time.

The 24 seafarers were all in good health, had received consular access and their ambassadors had been “informed of their release and extradition”, Amir-Abdollahian was quoted as saying.

MSC has not commented.

Portugal defended the ship’s master, notifying Iranian authorities that he had a right to switch off its AIS.

Speaking at the IMO last month, Iran’s representative described the seizure of the MSC Aries as a “technical issue” and said crew would be repatriated based on “minimum safe manning standards”.

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