Iranian troops accused of seizing Israel-linked ship

Image source, Getty Images

Iran has been accused of seizing a commercial ship with links to Israel early on Saturday morning as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz.

The MSC Aries was boarded by Iranian special forces about 50 miles (80km) off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a statement from MSC said.

Footage obtained by Reuters news agency appeared to show troops rappelling onto the vessel from a helicopter.

The Portuguese-flagged ship is linked to Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer.

The incident comes amid heightened expectation of an Iranian attack on Israel after an airstrike destroyed Iran’s consulate in Damascus at the start of April. Israel said on Saturday Iran would bear the consequences for choosing to escalate the situation any further.

Tracking data last showed the MSC Aries off the coast of the UAE, heading towards the Strait of Hormuz over 18 hours ago. It then appeared to turn off its tracking data, which is common for Israeli-affiliated ships in the region.

The UK’s Maritime Trade Operations agency confirmed the boarding in a statement. It made no mention of Iranian involvement, instead stating that the ship had been seized by “regional authorities” off the coast of Fujairah in the UAE.

However, Iranian media has been quick to trumpet the involvement of the country’s special forces in the attack.

The country’s state news agency, Irna, said the naval branch of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) had seized the MSC Aries as it was “linked to Israel”. It added that the ship was in the process of being transported to Iranian waters.

In video footage, troops could be seen rappelling onto the vessel from a helicopter hovering overhead. A crew member could be heard shouting: “Don’t come out.”

In the video, one commando could also be seen kneeling to provide cover fire as other troops boarded the ship. According to MSC there were 25 crew members onboard at the time of the seizure.

Officials in Tehran have yet to comment on the seizure.

The ship is managed by MSC, which leases the vessel from Gortal Shipping Inc – a company affiliated with Mr Ofer’s Zodiac Maritime.

US warns of impending Iran attack

Since 2019 Iranian forces have carried out a series of ship seizures in the region and the attack comes amid mounting tensions between Iran and Israel.

Ever since the lethal 1 April attack on the Iranian consulate building in Damascus, which killed a senior IRGC commander, Iran has vowed to strike back at Israel, which it blames for the attack.

While Israel has declined to comment on the attack, US officials have repeatedly warned that they expect Iran to attack Israel “sooner than later”.

“We are devoted to the defence of Israel. We will support Israel,” Mr Biden said. “We will help defend Israel and Iran will not succeed.”

A spokesperson for Israel’s military said on Saturday that Iran would “bear the consequences for choosing to escalate the situation any further”.

Meanwhile, Dutch media reported that the KLM airline will no longer fly over Iran due to mounting regional tensions.

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