Iran says dispute over seized Maersk ship could be settled in days

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Iran said on Wednesday a legal settlement could be reached soon over its seizure of the Marshall-Islands flagged Maersk Tigris container ship in the Strait of Hormuz last month, according to the official IRNA news agency.

The Maersk Tigris was diverted on April 28 by Iranian patrol boats in one of the world's major oil shipping lanes, prompting the United States to send vessels to monitor the situation and to accompany U.S.-flagged vessels passing through the strait.

Danish shipping giant Maersk has insisted on the release of the vessel and its 24 crew members. Iran says the Maersk Tigris would only be let go once a years-old debt case is settled.

"The negotiations between the private complainant and the other party are going on and possibly the issue will be resolved in a day or two," IRNA quoted Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham as telling a news conference.

"The 24 members of the crew are free and they are benefiting from consular assistance," she said.

Reuters understands that crew are still under Iranian supervision.

A spokesman for Rickmers Shipmanagement, which manages the ship, said it was in contact with the crew.

"They are still on the ship and they have always been onboard the vessel since the Iranians took custody of the ship," the spokesman said.

Maersk, the world's largest container shipping company, said it had sent a letter of undertaking related to the case earlier on Wednesday, but would not elaborate on what that undertaking was or when the issue could be resolved.

Maersk chartered the ship, which according to ship operator Rickmers is owned by undisclosed private investors.

Iranian officials have repeatedly said the vessel will not be released until the case is settled. But Maersk has argued that because the vessel is not owned by the company, it has nothing to do with any legal proceedings.

A Rickmers spokesman said on Thursday: "We've noted the statements in the media from Iran's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman. I can only confirm that Maersk - as stated yesterday - are in dialogue with the court in Iran."

The incident occurred at a critical juncture in U.S.-Iranian relations, which could thaw after decades of hostility should a tentative nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers including Washington be clinched.

It also coincided with heightened tension between regional arch-rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia over the civil war in Yemen, in which they support opposing sides.

U.S. Navy ships began accompanying U.S.-flagged commercial vessels through the Strait of Hormuz on April 30. Iranian ships shadowed the U.S.-flagged Maersk Kensington on April 24.

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