The Middle East sparks complex geopolitical conflicts, and these tensions are increasingly spilling over into critical shipping routes. The Bab el-Mandeb and Strait of Hormuz, vital chokepoints for global trade between Europe and Asia, are particularly vulnerable to disruptions.

In a recent incident, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) targeted an MSC containership due to its alleged connections to Israel, further escalating tensions in the region.

MSC Aries – IMO: 9857169

The “MSC Aries” container ship set sail for Nhava Sheva, India, on April 12th, 2024, departing Khalifa, United Arab Emirates (UAE), at 4:30 UTC. The following day, around 0630 UTC, while the ship was sailing at 15,4 knots and displaying a freeboard of 17.6m, was boarded via helicopter by Iranian forces and seized along with its 25 crewmembers, in a typical manner to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

In the past, Iran has attempted to hijack oil tankers, often as a response to sanctions imposed by the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Recently, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized a Greek-owned oil tanker named “St. Nikolas” on January 11th. Allegedly, this action was in retaliation for the US confiscating the same ship and its crude oil cargo back in 2023 when it was sailing under the name “Suez Rajan.”

Amid escalating tensions in the region, the MSC Aries, a containership, has been seized due to its links to Israel. This incident raises the question of whether the threat will extend beyond the MSC Aries, affecting other ships even remotely associated with Israel.

The “MSC Aries”, is a container ship built in 2020 and registered in Portugal, boasting a 366-meter length, 158,097 deadweight tonnage capacity, and 15,000 TEU container capacity. Owned by Gortal Shipping Inc, it’s managed and operated by Zodiac Maritime Ltd. Classified by Lloyd’s Register and insured with the Steamship Mutual P&I, the “MSC Aries” recently departed Baltimore, USA, its second port on the westbound TP12 route towards Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Skytek used advanced satellite imagery and unique ship detection algorithms to track the location of the “MSC Aries”. Skytek anticipated that the ship would be in the Clarence Strait, south of the Bandar Abbas port, where other previously seized ships were anchored, which was later confirmed by satellite imagery.

On April 13th, Skytek observed the “MSC Aries” anchored close to three other ships that had been recently hijacked, namely the “Advantage Sweet” – IMO:9587192, “Niovi” – IMO:9292498, and “St. Nikolas” – IMO:9524475. The following day, the ship was seen moving east from the Clarence Strait and anchored at the coordinates 27.01368° N, 56.31048° E. The most recent images analyzed by Skytek, dated April 15th, 2024, show the ship once again near the three oil tankers that were hijacked earlier this year, represented for reference in Figure 1.

Figure 1 - MSC Aries located in Planet Labs satellite imagery, south of Bandar Abbas port, on April 15th, 2024.

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