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Biden administration calls on Iran to release Israeli-linked cargo ship and crew ‘immediately’

The Biden administration is calling on Iran to release an Israeli-linked cargo ship and its crew “immediately,” following its seizure in the Strait of Hormuz Saturday.

“We strongly condemn the Iranian seizure of the Portuguese flagged, British-owned MSC AIRES in international waters,” Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the National Security Council, posted on social media platform X.

The crew on board are Indian, Filipino, Pakistani, Russian and Estonian nationals, according to Watson.

“We call on Iran to release the vessel & its international crew immediately,” her post said.

The White House announced midday Saturday that President Biden would be returning from his Delaware home to the White House to “consult with his national security team” about the unfolding events in the Middle East.

Members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) rappelled down from a helicopter onto the ship Saturday around noon local time, Tasmin News Agency, an Iranian outlet associated with the IRGC, reported.

The vessel is the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries, a containership, that is associated with the London-based Zodiac Maritime. Zodiac Maritime is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group.

The IRGC is independent of Iran’s traditional army but acts as a branch of its armed forces. The U.S. State Department has designated the IRGC as a foreign terrorist group.

Video obtained by The Associated Press showed the attack, where commandos can be seen repelling down onto a stack of containers on the ship. A crew member can be heard saying “Don’t come out” and telling his colleagues to go to the vessel’s bridge.

“Seizing a civilian vessel without provocation is a blatant violation of international law, and an act of piracy by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization,” Watson’s second post said.

Watson said the attack “must be condemned unequivocally” and the United States will work with its partners to “hold Iran to account for its actions.”

The United Kingdom Maritime Trader Operations reported the recent incident and said British military officials are investigating. It’s asked ships in the area to “transit with caution and report any suspicious activity.”

The MSC Aries was last located in Dubai Friday heading toward the strait. The vessel’s location tracking data was turned off, which is not uncommon for Israeli ships in the region, the AP noted.

The vessel takeover comes as Israel has been bracing for a major attack from Iran. Western intelligence and U.S. officials said Israel was preparing for a retaliatory attack after striking Iran’s embassy in Syria, killing seven military advisers and three senior IRGC members.

Source: The Hill

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