April 28, 2015

CNAS Press Note: Iran Seizes a Container Ship in the Strait of Hormuz

By Jerry Hendrix

Washington, April 28 – On news that Iran had seized a flagged container ship operating in the Strait of Hormuz, Capt. (Ret.) Jerry Hendrix, Director of the Center for a New American Security Defense Strategies and Assessments Program, has written a new press note laying out the security concerns, tactical responses, and U.S. responsibilities in light of the seizure. 

The full Press Note is available below:

The seizure of the Marshall Island’s flagged container ship Maersk Tigris while it was operating within the Strait of Hormuz en route to the port of Jebal Ali represents a significant violation of international norms if not international law.  Although Iran has issued claims over the sovereignty of waters within the strait, the shipping lanes there have been well defined for years and recognized by international bodies.  The seizure of a ship flagged in the Marshall Islands, which has a security relationship with the United States under the 1979 Compact of Free Association, poses a direct challenge to U.S. leadership. Failure to uphold security guarantees made to the Marshall Islands would undermine U.S. credibility with other treaty allies and bring into question the international norms of free trade and free navigation that have been the backbone of the global economic order since the end of World War II. 

It is clear to outside observers that Iran selected this ship at this time for a reason. While primarily a protest against the movement of the USS Theodore Roosevelt Battle Group to the Arabian Sea to interdict the shipment of supplies to Iranian backed rebels in Yemen, the action also has the net effect of undermining U.S. prestige in the Arabian Gulf region while raising Iran’s.  The Obama administration will be well served by quick and decisive action to recover the ship. A good example of this would be the Ford administration’s handling of the Mayaguez Incident off Cambodia thirty years ago next month, when U.S. Marines boarded and recovered the captured merchant vessel while carrier based aircraft bombed forces on the Cambodian mainland to prevent resistance to the ship’s recovery.  If the Obama administration waits too long or fails to act decisively, then it risks a repeat of the 1968 Pueblo Incident, which involved the capture of a U.S. military vessel and the torture of American sailors and highlighted the weakness of the Johnson administration in its final year.

Capt. Hendrix is available for interviews on the issue. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at nurwitz@cnas.org or call 202-457-9409. 

  • Jerry Hendrix

    Senior Fellow and Director, Defense Strategies and Assessments Program

    Jerry Hendrix is a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security. A retired Captain in the United...