Interesting details have emerged surrounding Iran’s seizure of the cargo vessel Maersk Tigris off its coast on Wednesday. The Financial Times relates that the seizure relates to a 2005 dispute over the fate of 10 shipping containers, which Maersk had delivered to Dubai, but which it then subsequently disposed of when no one came forward to claim them. There were legal proceedings afoot, and Maersk had won the first round of the battle in Iran’s courts. However, Maersk claims it was unaware that an appeals court had ruled against them in February to the tune of $3.6 million.
United States is still not giving full credence to the Iranian legalistic explanation, however. The U.S. Navy has started escorting U.S. flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz. And indeed, nothing in the legal backstory really explains or justifies the aggressive way the Iranians chose to behave:
The Iranian action differs sharply from normal international practice for enforcing shipping claims. Vessels are normally served with a local court order for their “arrest” after arriving in port. The revolutionary guards instead approached the Tigris in international waters, fired shots across the vessel’s bow after the master initially refused to go to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, and subsequently escorted the vessel to shore.
In any case, it’s clear that diplomatic and legal solutions to this crisis are possible if Iran wants to go that route. Whether it chooses to is another question.