Iranian navy ship..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK - Iran's foreign minister on Wednesday offered assurances that Tehran is committed to maintaining freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf in the aftermath of the seizure of a commercial ship by Iranian forces a day earlier.
"The Persian Gulf is our lifeline ... We will respect international navigation," Mohammad Javad Zarif told an audience at New York University. "For us, freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf is a must."
Iranian naval forces shot at, boarded and confiscated a commercial vessel transiting the Straits of Hormuz on Tuesday.
The MV Maersk Tigris, a 65,000-ton container ship, was flying a Marshall Islands flag and operated by Rickmers Shipmanagement, a Singaporean company. The ship departed from the Saudi Arabian port of Jeddah and was bound for the United Arab Emirates.
According to Iranian staterun media, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized the ship under court order for “legal reasons,” which the Pentagon called “provocative” several hours later.
The Maersk Tigris initially ignored Iranian patrol boats that ordered it deeper into Iranian territorial waters, but complied after the vessels fired several warning shots, US Col. Steve Warren said. US forces in the region responded to its distress calls by sending the USS Farragut, a destroyer, to monitor the situation along with reconnaissance aircraft.
The ship, which is currently in Iranian custody, is not carrying any US citizens, Warren added. Iranian media claimed the ship was American, sailing under a false flag, while noting that its 34 crew members were mostly European.
The US has a compact with the Marshall Islands, formally known as the Compact of Free Association, which allows the US to use Marshall Islands land for military purposes in exchange for a US commitment to the defense of its assets.
The State Department said the ship was traversing an “internationally recognized maritime route,” though it was not immediately clear if that route was in international or Iranian waters.
The Obama administration has had several close-calls with Iran at sea. The US last publicly threatened to board and inspect ships carrying Iranian arms in 2014, when a vessel under a Panama flag was sailing toward Gaza. Israel volunteered to board the ship instead, and arrested its crew.