Iran releases Maersk Tigris cargo ship

Iran releases Maersk Tigris cargo ship
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Iran on Thursday released a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship its forces seized, while the ship was traveling the Strait of Hormuz, straining relations with the U.S. amid negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program.  

The Maersk Tigris cargo ship and its 24 crew members were released by Iranian authorities following an order from an Iranian court, according to a statement by the Rickmers Group, which managed the ship. 

"The management of Rickmers Group and everyone in the company are delighted that the vessel is no longer held under Iranian control and its valued seafarers are able to resume their normal life and continue their voyage," it said. 

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Iran said it detained the cargo vessel over a long-running legal dispute between the Danish shipping firm Maersk and a private Iranian firm. 

Maersk was ordered by an Iranian court to pay $3.6 million to Pars Oil Products for cargo that allegedly had not been delivered, according to the BBC

The ship was released after Iranian authorities received guarantees of the order's enforcement. The Rickmers Group said the Maersk Tigris would continue on its scheduled voyage to Jebel Ali. 

Acting State Department deputy press secretary Jeff Rathke had cast doubt over Iran's claims earlier this week, saying U.S. officials were not sure why Iran had detained the cargo ship and that it had cited a "number of different public descriptions."

Nonetheless, the vessel's release ends a tricky diplomatic situation for the Obama administration. 

The State Department determined that the U.S. was responsible for the defense of the Marshall Islands, including its flagged vessels, prompting officials to answer questions on how it would get the ship back and whether it was prepared to use force. 

Iranian forces on April 28 had approached the Maersk Tigris as it was going through the strait, which is technically Iranian territorial waters but also an internationally recognized shipping lane. 

After the ship's master refused to comply with Iranian demands, Iranian forces fired shots across the bridge of the ship and boarded it. The ship was detained near Larak Island off the coast of Iran for more than a week. 

The U.S. Navy sent a destroyer and a maritime patrol aircraft to monitor the Maersk Tigris, and announced it would accompany any U.S. or British-flagged cargo ships through the strait. The incident occurred just four days after Iranian naval forces had approached and encircled a U.S.-flagged cargo ship. 

The Pentagon on Wednesday said the accompaniment mission of U.S.- and British-flagged vessels had ended Tuesday evening, citing no further incidents in the strait. 

The dispute over the vessel occurred as the Obama administration hopes to reach a final agreement with Iran to roll back its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, and as the Senate debates a bill that would allow Congress to review the final agreement.