The MV Maersk Tigris container ship was directed into the Bandar Abbas port on the southern coast of Iran, according to the report. The ship, which is based in the Marshall Islands, was boarded by the Iranians at about 9 a.m. GMT.
Initial reports, by the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya News Channel, the claimed the ship was American and has 34 crew members aboard who are United States citizens.
But United States officials have so far denied that an American ship was involved, though the Pentagon says it is monitoring the situation according to the BBC.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Iranian Forces Fired Across the Ship’s Bow
According to Al Arabiya, Iranian forces fired at the ship. The Pentagon told Reuters that the forces boarded the ship after patrol boats fired shots across its bow and ordered it deeper into Iranian waters.
“The master was contacted and directed to proceed further into Iranian territorial waters. He declined and one of the IRGCN craft fired shots across the bridge of the Maersk Tigris,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren told CNN. “The master complied with the Iranian demand and proceeded into Iranian waters IVO Larak Island.”
Warren said it was “inappropriate” for the Iranian forces to fire the warning shot.
The IRGCN is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy.
The Iranian news agency Fars said the ship was seized because of a financial dispute.
“The ship is a trade vessel and has been seized by the Iranian navy at the request of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization,” a source told Fars. “The ship was seized after a relevant court order was issued for its confiscation.”
Fars continued to claim that the ship is U.S.-owned.
2. The Ship Was Traveling From Saudi Arabia to the UAE
Tracking data shows the 65,000-ton container ship off the Iranian coast near the islands of Qeshm and Hormuz. It was set to sail from the Saudi Arabian port of Jeddah to the United Arab Emirates port of Jebel Ali.
The Pentagon told Reuters that the ship was traveling across the Strait of Hormuz when it encountered the Iranian forces.
The ship was in international waters when the Iranians approached it, according to Rickmers Ship Management, the ship’s manager. Cor Radings, a spokesman for Rickmers, told Bloomberg it’s not clear to them why the ship was boarded and he said they are trying to reestablish contact with the ship.
The Strait of Hormuz is a channel separating Oman and Iran. It connects the Gulf’s biggest oil producers, like Saudi Arabia, with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. It is 21 miles across at its narrowest point and has 2-mile wide channels for inbound and outbound shipping, along with a 2-mile wide buffer zone.
3. The Maersk Group Is a Danish Companyy
Maersk, is based in Denmark. The ship itself is flagged in the Marshall Islands, an independent nation with a close relationship to the United States. The U.S. provides defense, financial aid and social services to the island nation.
Maersk Line is the largest container ship operator in the world. The company, founded in 1928, has over 600 vessels and employs more than 30,000, including 7,000 who work on ships.
4. The USS Farragut Is Responding to the Area
The USS Farragut destroyer and American planes are responding to the distress call from the Maersk Tigris, CNN reports.
The ship, which was about 60 miles away, has been in contact with American forces in the area and was ordered to head toward the area.
5. Iran Has Threatened to Block the Strait of Hormuz in the Past
Iran has previously threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz over sanctions to its nuclear program, according to Reuters.
In 2011 and 2012, Iranian officials used the important oil-trade route as a way to prevent further sanctions, the BBC reported at the time.
Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said “not a drop of oil will pass through the Strait of Hormuz” if sanctions were put in place. The Iranian navy chief said it would be “easy” to close the strait.