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Maersk Pays “Ransom,” Iran Frees Ship

Maersk Pays “Ransom,” Iran Frees Ship

Iran shows that crimes pays

Iran released the Maersk Tigris, the cargo ship it seized at sea last week.

The New York Times reports:

The Maersk Line, the Danish shipping giant, confirmed in a statement that the vessel and its 24-member crew, forced to anchor near Iran’s southern port of Bandar Abbas since its seizure on April 28, were now free and en route to the port of Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates. …

The Maersk Tigris is registered in the Marshall Islands. It is managed and staffed by Rickmers Shipmanagement, a subsidiary of Germany’s Rickmers Group, a maritime services company, which reported that the crew was in good condition. …

The apparent stand-down reflected what political analysts called a wish by both Iran and the United States to avert an escalation of tensions that could sabotage the nuclear talks between Iran and a group of six powers that includes the United States.

From the language of the report it appears that Maersk agreed to a settlement of the claim an Iranian company had against it.

CBS offered the judgment of one of its security analysts.

The Iranian decision to board the vessel was “a reflection of the fact that tensions are running very high, and these tensions don’t really have borders,” explained CBS News senior national security analyst Juan Zarate. “These are conflicts that are happening on the ground, they’re happening in the shipping lanes, and there are places and points of vulnerability that could… serve as flashpoints for conflict.”

It’s worth noting, Zarate said, that the Iranians have their own economic interests in preserving the safety of the Strait of Hormuz, a body of water through which roughly 20 percent of the world’s oil passes.

“They certainly want the lanes open, but they also want the world to know that they can impact the lines and that this is a point of leverage and vulnerability that Iran can use to its advantage,” he said.

What the Times reported about “avert[ing] an escalation of tensions” differs from Zarate’s observation that Iran “want[s] the world to know that they can impact the lines.”

Zarate is correct. Iran is flexing its muscles. The reduction of tensions will likely be temporary.

Yesterday I posted that law professor Eugene Kontorovich wrote that seizure of Maersk Tigris violated international law because it took place while the ship was at sea and because Iran also seized the crew. In a later analysis when it was reported that Maersk had agreed to make a payment for the release of the ship, Kontorovich called it a ransom.

It appears Iran is essentially seizing vessels for ransom, or charging a selective toll on transit through international straits. …

The Islamic Republic has no legal authority to seize the ship. Releasing it on payment of money is not piracy, because that can only committed by non-state actors, but it is definitely a shake-down, and an assertion of general sovereign rights over international shipping lanes. It is likely not the last such ransom Iran will demand.

(Yesterday, I called Iran’s seizure of the Maersk Tigris “piracy.” I was wrong.)

Last month  when the United States deployed ships to the Arabian Sea, Col. Steve Warren said that American ships “are operating [in the Arabian Sea] with a very clear mission to ensure that shipping lanes remain open, to ensure there’s freedom of navigation through those critical waterways, and to help ensure maritime security.” About a week later Iran seized the Maersk Tigris.

Iran paid no price for the seizure and it defied the United States in doing so. If Iran got away with it once, it knows it can do it again.

This isn’t just important in terms of ensuring “freedom of navigation,” Iran plays games like this in other areas too.

In the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), Iran was prohibited from testing advanced centrifuges. But late last year Iran was caught feeding uranium into a single advanced centrifuge. When it was confronted it stopped. But still it violated the terms of the JPOA. Since then the administration has excused the violation terming it a “mistake,” and President Barack Obama now says that Iran abided by the JPOA.

Iran violates its agreements, usually in a limited fashion. If it gets away with it, Iran will keep pushing the envelope.

Even if the nuclear deal is airtight (and it isn’t) if the United States and the West are unwilling to hold Iran responsible for its violations, the agreement is worthless.

The lesson of the Maersk Tigris and of the advanced centrifuge is the same. America does not have the will to make Iran live up to its word.

[Photo: wochit news / YouTube ]


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Ragspierre | May 8, 2015 at 8:58 am

There’s a very simple way for maritime interests to avoid this quasi-piracy by Iran; pay any rightful claims against their vessels, or stay out of reach of these thugs.

If an Iranian company has a claim against a vessel, fight it if its wrong.

But ignoring it won’t work under admiralty law. Any harbor-master in any port will arrest a vessel with a judgment against it, and hold it until its paid. That’s how the game is played. Here, of course, Iran broke the rules by seizing the vessel under way.

Now, see this is MUCH more provocative than a cartoon.

Jes’ sayin’…

    But wasn’t the judgment against the shipping line and had nothing to do with this specific vessel? I thought that was mentioned in previous posts on LI about it and in other places…

    I grant that modern shipping works very hard to operate in legal gray areas so that they skirt countries’ legal ability to do well, something like this, and Iran just chose not to let the fine points of international law slow it down here, but still, it’s very bad national behavior at the very least.

      Ragspierre in reply to JBourque. | May 8, 2015 at 10:34 am

      Yep. The individual vessel is a fictional person in admiralty law. A “she”. And if that fictional person has a judgment “she” can be arrested against payment of that judgment.

      Admiralty law is the genesis for all “In Rem” laws…which have been BADLY abused, IMNHO. But that’s another whole can of worms….

        Point being, I don’t want to sympathize with Iran very much here because even if it’s been purportedly victimized by legal technicalities, it did the equivalent of sending out a SWAT team to rob a bank to settle the score…

        Ragspierre in reply to Ragspierre. | May 8, 2015 at 11:35 am

        If you got that from my comments, I’ve made myself badly misunderstood.

        My main point is that shipping interests world-wide have a simple means of protecting their assets from this quasi-piracy by Iran.

    Not A Member of Any Organized Political in reply to Ragspierre. | May 8, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    Iran needs to be made to pay price 10 times or more compared to the “benefits” they are getting from their action.

    It can happen!

Can’t Congress authorize us to be privateers too? It looks like fun and profit!

I vaguely remember Iranian naval forces attempting to pull this same stunt on a different commercial carrier chugging along the same path recently, only the captain ignored them and continued along his route until they gave up and went away. (verification needed)

I’m starting to think an ‘accident’ with a Predator drone, a Hellfire missile, and an ambitious Iranian naval captain would be a good example for future generations and their respect for private property rights.

    David Gerstman in reply to georgfelis. | May 8, 2015 at 11:32 am

    georgfelis – you are correct, there was another vessel challenged by Iran a few days before the Tigris. Don’t have a link right now.

Classic Islamic piracy. “…to the shores of Tripoli” needs to become operative again.

Iran was trying to force settlement of a claim, eh?

Well, no hatter how heavy-handed the Iranians were about it, settling claims hardly makes this another date which will live in infamy.

Iran’s crimes are real enough. But this is kid stuff; bad manners are not exactly an existential threat to international commerce. Pretending this is piracy, extortion, blackmail, blah blah, is silly.

Obama has been trying to re-establish the viability of Islamic piracy and ransom since early in his first term. That is what the delay in sending Seals to deal with the hijackers on the Maersk Alabama was about. Obama was determined to get his negotiating team in place before the military option had a chance to come on line, so they could set the precedent for a negotiated solution. In the end the Seals beat the negotiators to the punch, but Obama’s interference was all about trying to set a precedent for negotiating with terrorists. I’m just surprised it took this long for him to find another opportunity.