Iranian paramilitary forces board Portuguese ship with Israeli ownership amid ongoing tensions

April 14, 2024 by No Comments

Iran’s paramilitary (IRGC) troops seized a Portuguese-flagged ship owned by an Israeli billionaire as tensions between the two nations remain at a high amid continued threats of attack. “UKMTO has received a report of an incident … northeast of Fujairah, UAE,” the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations reported. “Vessel reported to have been seized by regional authorities. Vessels are advised to transit with caution and report any suspicious activity to UKMTO.” The MSC Aries, a Portuguese-flagged ship owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group, was passing through the when an Iranian helicopter dropped IRGC troops onto its deck. Video taken by a crew member shows the troops rappelling down onto a stack of containers while the crew member tells his colleagues “Don’t come out.” He then tells the other crew members to go to the ship’s bridge while the IRGC commandos set up to take the ship, with one troop kneeling on top of the containers to provide potential cover fire if those on the ship tried to resist as more troops descend to the deck. The Associated Press suggested the helicopter could be a Soviet-era Mil Mi-17 helicopter, which both the IRGC and to raid ships across the Red Sea, Sea of Oman and Persian Gulf. Geneva-based MSC reported that the ship had 25 crew members aboard, and the Iranian state-run IRNA said the IRGC was taking the vessel into Iranian territorial waters. The seizure follows a week of increased tensions between Iran and Israel. Tehran has repeatedly for the attack on an Iranian consulate in Damascus, which many – including the United States – attributed to Israel even though no Israeli official took credit for the attack. President Biden on Friday said he believed Iran’s response could happen and the U.S. moved some assets closer to Israel to prepare for the possibility of an Iranian attack over the weekend. U.S. CENTCOM commander Gen. Michael Kurilla also moved up his trip to Israel in the face of increased Iranian threats over the past week. The IRGC has previously tried to exert control over the Persian Gulf. In 2020, a number of smaller Guard boats harassed American naval ships, using their own ships to try and drive the American ones out of the Gulf.  The IRGC also seized a number of ships in the Gulf, including the 2020 taking of a Hong Kong-flagged oil tanker, also near the Strait of Hormuz, which is the pinch point between the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman. That ship was later released, Radio Free Europe reported. Iran eased off its maritime activities as the Yemen-based Houthis ramped up their own raids on ships throughout the Red Sea, claiming the ships had ties to Israel and helped support Israel’s operations in the Gaza Strip. Iranian officials usually provided some explanation for seizing a vessel, but so far have offered nothing regarding the MSC Aries other than to note its links to Israel, The Associated Press reported.