Iran seizes ship amid tensions with Israel

Iran seizes ship amid tensions with Israel

India in touch with Iran to secure release of 17 Indians onboard ship

New Delhi/ Dubai: Seventeen Indians are on board an Israeli-linked container ship that has been seized by theIranian military amid heightened tensions between Iran and Israel. Official sources said India is in touch with Iranian authorities through diplomatic channels, both in Tehran and in Delhi, to ensure the welfare and early release of the Indian nationals. The Iranian action came amid increasing fears that Tehran may launch an attack on Israeli soil in retaliation to a strike on the Iranian consulate in Syria 12 days ago, including a senior Guard general who once commanded its expeditionary Quds Force there. "We are aware that a cargo ship 'MSC Aries' has been taken control by Iran. We have learnt that there are 17 Indian nationals onboard," said a source.

"We are in touch with the Iranian authorities through diplomatic channels, both in Tehran and in Delhi, to ensure security, welfare and early release of Indian nationals," it said. Reports said Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards seized MSC Aries on Saturday morning when it was sailing through the Strait of Hormuz. Commandos from Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard rappelled down from a helicopter onto an Israeli-affiliated container ship near the Strait of Hormuz and seized the vessel on Saturday, the latest in a series of attacks between the two countries.

The Israeli war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip meanwhile is now six months old and is inflaming decades-old tensions across the whole region. With Iranian-backed forces like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Yemen's Houthi rebels also involved in the fighting, any new attack in the Mideast threatens to escalate that conflict into a wider regional war.

Iran's state-run IRNA said a special forces’ unit of the Guard's navy attacked the vessel, the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries, a container ship associated with London-based Zodiac Maritime. Zodiac Maritime is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer's Zodiac Group. Zodiac declined to comment and referred questions to MSC. Geneva-based MSC later acknowledged the seizure and said a crew of 25 had been aboard the vessel.

IRNA said the Guard would take the vessel into Iranian territorial waters.

Earlier, a Middle East defence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, shared a video of the attack with The Associated Press. In it, the Iranian commandos are seen rappelling down onto a stack of containers sitting on the deck of the vessel. A crew member on the ship can be heard saying: “Don't come out.” He then tells his colleagues to go to the ship's bridge as more commandos come down on the deck. One commando can be seen kneeling above the others to provide them with potential cover fire.

The video corresponded with known details of the MSC Aries. The helicopter used also appeared to be a Soviet-era Mil Mi-17 helicopter, which both the Guard and the Iranian-backed Houthis of Yemen have used in the past to conduct commando raids on ships.

The British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations described the vessel as being “seized by regional authorities” in the Gulf of Oman off the Emirati port city of Fujairah, without elaborating. The MSC Aries had been last located off Dubai heading toward the Strait of Hormuz on Friday. The ship had turned off its tracking data, which has been common for Israeli-affiliated ships moving through the region. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called on nations to list the Guard as a terrorist organisation. Iran “is a criminal regime that supports Hamas' crimes and is now conducting a pirate operation in violation of international law”, Katz said.

Iran since 2019 has engaged in a series of ship seizures and attacks on vessels that have been attributed to it amid ongoing tensions with the West over its rapidly advancing nuclear programme. Since November, Iran had dialled back its ship attacks as the Houthis targeted ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

Houthi attacks have slowed in recent weeks as the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan ended and the rebels have faced months of US-led airstrikes targeting them.

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