Iran on Wednesday denied it had detained the crew of the Maersk Tigris cargo vessel it seized in a business dispute last week, saying they were benefitting from diplomatic assistance.
The vessel — chartered by Danish shipping group A.P. Moeller-Maersk and with 24 crew aboard — was seized by Iranian patrol boats on April 28 in the busy Strait of Hormuz.
The seizure caused concern for the security of shipping lanes in the strategic strait and prompted the United States to send vessels to monitor the situation.
Maersk had urged Iran to release the crew, saying it did not own the Marshall Islands-flagged vessel, which was carrying cargo for Maersk under contract, and that crew members were not its employees.
But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said Wednesday the crew had never been in detention.
"The 24 members of the ship's crew are free. They are benefiting from consular assistance and from our point of view they are not connected with the seizure of the vessel," she said.
"Negotiations are continuing with the private company that has filed the complaint and with the other party, and it is possible that this case will be resolved in one or two days."
Iranian state TV reported that the crew members were from Bulgaria, Myanmar, Romania and Britain. None of the crew members are Danish.
Afkham reiterated that the dispute was "a legal case, not a political or military case".
The seizure was in connection with an Iranian court order for Maersk to pay $3.6 million (24 million kroner, 3.2 million euros) in damages to Iranian firm Pars Oil Products Talayieh over cargo that allegedly was not delivered.