Iran’s state-run media and sister organizations in allied nations like Russia are reporting the capture of the cargo vessel Maersk Tigris somewhat differently from how the Obama administration has been portraying the incident. The administration described it as flying the Marshall Islands’ flag, not American flags, with no American citizens on board. Iranian media, by contrast, have insisted on referring to the Maersk Tigris as an American ship.
“URGENT: US Ship Seized by Iranian Warships,” blares the headline from the Iranian Fars News Agency. The story begins by referring to the Maersk Tigris as an “American trade vessel” and later relates the description of an “informed source” who called it “Marshall Islands-flagged, but owned by the U.S.”
This “informed source” also claimed there could be American nationals among the crew, although the Pentagon has said there are no Americans aboard.
Through their Fars mouthpiece, the Iranian government seems more eager than the Obama administration to admit this was an act of high-seas piracy. “Early reports said the vessel has been seized for trespassing on Iran’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf,” according to “informed sources,” but later they clarified to Fars that “the ship is a trade vessel and has been seized by the Iranian navy at the request of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization.”
Russia’s RT.com was less insistent on identifying the ship as American, although they treat the Pentagon’s statement on the matter as somewhat debatable: “The Iranian Navy has reportedly seized a Marshall Islands-flagged ship with 24 crew members on board. It was previously reported that it was a US vessel, though the Pentagon denied those claims.”
Here’s how RT describes the Pentagon statement on the incident:
Pentagon spokesman US Army Colonel Steve Warren confirmed that Iranian forces boarded the Marshall Island-flagged Maersk Tigris vessel after patrol boats fired warning shots across its bow and ordered it deeper into Iranian waters, Reuters reported. He called the decision “inappropriate.”
“At first appearance it does seem to be provocative behavior, but again we don’t have all the facts yet,” Warren told a Pentagon news briefing.
The vessel initially ignored the warning but complied after the shots were fired, Warren said.
RT does relate the Pentagon statement that no Americans were aboard Maersk Tigris as a statement of fact, noting that Iranian statements about bringing the vessel to their port at Bandar Abbas appear to conflict with tracking data for the ship.
There has been speculation Iran pulled this stunt as a display of pugnacious independence and international assertiveness for the benefit of domestic audiences; the Fars report on the incident seems consistent with that theory.