Even though Maersk Line is one of the most frequent users of the narrow passage through the Strait of Hormuz, with 30 transits per week, the carrier has opted to merely encourage the crews on board its vessels to exert increased caution in the region, Maersk Line Senior Press Officer Michael Storgaard tells ShippingWatch.
American as well as British vessels are being escorted through the strait after Iranian forces, allegedly from the country's Revolutionary Guard, last week forced container ship Maersk Tigris to anchor in Iranian waters with a demand for payment related to an old court case. But this does not apply to the Maersk fleet.
The case dates back to 2005, when the carrier transported ten containers to Dubai for an Iranian customer, after which the containers were never picked up and subsequently destroyed by the authorities after 90 days. Following this, the Iranian company filed a lawsuit against Maersk Line with a USD 4 million claim, corresponding to the value of the cargo. The Iranian forces cited this verdict as the basis for the detainment of the ship one week ago. The ship is owned by Oaktree and on charter with Rickmers Shipmanagement.
Three possible scenarios
Hans Tino Hansen, CEO of Risk Intelligence, explains that three possible scenarios have emerged, the first of which is the most frightening one, though perhaps also the most unlikely.
"That scenario would be if a civil lawsuit is in fact the reason this ship was arrested. Because in that case, all parties with even the slightest ties to business relations in the country could face a potential risk of a similar incident. In this case, one could ask why the Iranians would pick a ship that in fact has nothing to do with Maersk Line beyond the fact that the carrier has chartered it. They could have picked a light blue ship, as they were looking at the week before, but maybe it was because the Maersk Kensington was sailing under US-flag that nothing more came of it," says Hans Tino Hansen.
The Iranian authorities and the Iranian Embassy in Denmark have maintained that the dated Dubai container dispute is the reason for the ship's arrest. But Hans Tino Hansen estimates, based on information from the US and the fact that small, high-speed motorboats were used instead of coast guard vessels, that the arrest was performed by members of the Revolutionary Guard. And this brings him to the second possible scenario:
Factors indicating an actual threat
"If this was about a simple legal matter, why are US naval vessels accompanying British and American ships through the Strait of Hormuz. The Americans would likely not be doing this if there wasn't something else involved. Maybe they know something the others don't. There are numerous factors indicating that the Revolutionary Guard is behind this, which means there could be some internal Iranian political matter behind the incident, where someone wanted to fan the flame, so to speak, following the nuclear negotiations, in order to see how the world and not least the US would react. If so, this is likely an isolated event that will not develop further, and which will hopefully be resolved soon," says Hans Tino Hansen, before arriving at the third and last potential scenario:
"That would be if there is an actual de-facto threat that can be surmised from the US reaction. As a carrier there is really not much else to do at this point than to pay attention to these things and stay up to date at all times," he says.
Yesterday, Monday, Maersk had yet to receive any written documentation related to Iran's arrest of Maersk Tigris.
Maersk Line meeting with Iranian officials
In the days since the ship was detained, representatives from the various parties have been meeting frequently. On Sunday representatives from Maersk Line met again with Iran's Ports & Maritime Organization (PMO), while the Danish Embassy met with Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Denmark's ambassador met with PMO again on Monday.
The situation has also been discussed at the Danish Shipowners' Association, which is currently awaiting more clarity concerning the motivation behind the arrest. As such the organization will not issue recommendations to its members on how to act if sailing through the Strait of Hormuz.