Iran: Maersk seizure is over unpaid debt

UPDATED: The Iranian Embassy in Copenhagen said that there was no political motives behind the seizure of a Maersk ship but company officials were unable to confirm those claims.

Iran: Maersk seizure is over unpaid debt
Photo: Maersk Line
Danish shipping group A.P. Moeller-Maersk said Wednesday that the crew of a chartered cargo vessel seized by Iran was safe, and that the company had been told a cargo dispute was behind the ship's confiscation.
Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards intercepted the Maersk Tigris on Tuesday in the strategic Strait of Hormuz leading into the Gulf.
The Marshall Islands-flagged ship was operated by Rickmers Ship Management, with head offices in Singapore and Hamburg, and was carrying cargo for Maersk Line, the group's shipping unit which had chartered the ship.
"We are in ongoing contact with Rickmers Ship Management and are pleased to learn that the crew is safe and under the circumstances in good spirits," Maersk said in a statement.
"We are continuing our efforts to obtain more information about the Iranian authorities' seizure — in international waters — of Maersk Tigris," it added.
The managing director of the Iranian Ports and Maritime Organisation, Mohammad Saidinejad, told Iran's official IRNA news agency that the confiscation was ordered after a private company on March 16 filed a complaint against Maersk over unpaid debts.
Maersk said it had been told by the agency that the seizure of the ship was related to "an allegedly unresolved cargo claim."
"We have however not received any written notification or similar pertaining to the claim or the seizure of the vessel," the shipping company added.
As such it said it was unable to confirm "whether or not this is the actual reason behind the seizure", but would continue its "efforts to obtain more information."
The Iranian embassy in Copenhagen said late Wednesday the dispute was over a 10-year-old unpaid debt and that there were no political motives or security concerns behind the move.
The Danish embassy in Tehran had been kept informed about the case over the years and the ship would be allowed to continue its journey as soon as Maersk settled its debt, the Iranian embassy said in a statement quoted by news agency Ritzau.
A spokesman for the Danish foreign ministry told AFP it was "following the situation closely" and that it was "in close dialogue" with Maersk.
The container vessel had a 24-member crew and was carrying regular commercial cargo but nothing related to weapons, according to Cor Radings, a spokesman for Rickmers.
Most crew members were from Eastern Europe and Asia, he told Danish media.
Iranian military ships on Tuesday fired across the bow of the Maersk Tigris when the captain initially refused a demand to head towards Iranian territory, US government and cargo company officials said.
The ship seizure came against the backdrop of heightened tensions in the Gulf, fuelled by the conflict in Yemen and high-stakes diplomacy between Washington and Tehran over Iran's nuclear program.

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Danish terror trial begins against Iranian separatists

Three leaders of an Iranian Arab separatist group pleaded not guilty to financing and promoting terrorism in Iran with Saudi Arabia's backing, as their trial opened in Denmark on Thursday.

Danish terror trial begins against Iranian separatists
File photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The three risk 12 years in prison if found guilty.

Aged 39 to 50, the trio are members of the separatist organisation ASMLA (Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz), which is based in Denmark and the Netherlands and which Iran considers a terrorist group.

The three, one of whom is a Danish citizen, have been held in custody in Denmark since February 2020.

Gert Dyrn, lawyer for the eldest of the three, told AFP that in his client’s opinion “what they are charged with is legitimate resistance towards an oppressive regime.”

“They are not denying receiving money from multiple sources, including Saudi Arabia, to help the movement and help them accomplish their political aim,” Dyrn said. 

His client has lived as a refugee in Denmark since 2006. 

According to the charge sheet seen by AFP, the three received around 30 million kroner (four million euros, $4.9 million) for ASMLA and its armed branch, through bank accounts in Austria and the United Arab Emirates.

The trio is also accused of spying on people and organisations in Denmark between 2012 and 2020 for Saudi intelligence.

Finally, they are also accused of promoting terrorism and “encouraging the activities of the terrorist movement Jaish Al-Adl, which has activities in Iran, by supporting them with advice, promotion, and coordinating attacks.”

The case dates back to 2018 when one of the three was the target of a foiled attack on Danish soil believed to be sponsored by the Iranian regime in retaliation for the killing of 24 people in Ahvaz, southwestern Iran, in September 2018.


Tehran formally denied the attack plan in Denmark, but a Danish court last year jailed a Norwegian-Iranian for seven years for his role in the plot. 

That attack put Danish authorities on the trail of the trio’s ASMLA activities.

Sunni Saudi Arabia is the main rival in the Middle East of Shia Iran, and Tehran regularly accuses it, along with Israel and the United States, of supporting separatist groups.

Lawyer Gert Dyrn said this was “the first case in Denmark within terror law where you have to consider who is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter.”