SIXTEEN industry associations and social partners have sent a joint letter to United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres calling for UN assistance following the seizure of MSC Aries.

Iran seized the Portuguese-flagged containership on 13 April while the ship was transiting the Strait of Hormuz. MSC Aries is owned by Gortal Shipping and chartered by MSC.

ASA, BIMCO, CLIA, ECSA, Intercargo, Intermanager, Intertanko, IAPH, ICS, IFSMA, IMCA, IMEC, IPTA, ITF, Fonasba and WSC are all signatories to the open letter.

They thanked the UN secretary general for the recognition placed on the shipping industry and acknowledged the work of IMO secretary general Arsenio Dominguez in raising the profile of seafarers.

But the seizure of MSC Aries, they said, had highlighted the “intolerable” situation where shipping has become a target.

“This is unacceptable,” the joint letter says.

“We have seen a worrying increase in the attacks on shipping. Shipping is not a target with no victims. Innocent seafarers have been killed, seafarers are being held hostage. This would be unacceptable on land, and it is unacceptable at sea.

“The world would be outraged if four airliners were seized and held hostage with innocent souls onboard. Regrettably, there does not seem to be the same response or concern for the four commercial vessels and their crews being held hostage.

“Seafarers kept the world fed and warm during the pandemic with vital medicine, food and fuel delivered, irrespective of politics. Seafarers and the maritime sector are neutral and must not be politicised. It is the moral duty to protect seafarers.

“Shipping is a resilient industry, throughout history it has delivered trade in the face of the most overwhelming threats and circumstances.

“Given the continually evolving and severe threat profile within the area, we call on you for enhanced coordinated military presence, missions and patrols in the region, to protect our seafarers against any further possible aggression.

“The industry associations ask that all member states be formally reminded of their responsibilities under international law. And we ask that all efforts possible are brought to bear to release the seafarers and protect the safe transit of ships.”

MSC in an incident update on 17 April – its only update so far due to “the extremely sensitive and fluid nature of the situation” – said the 25 crew were safe.

“Discussions with the Iranian authorities are in progress to secure their earliest release,” it said.

Reuters on 18 April reported that an Indian woman who was a crewmember on MSC Aries had returned to the country, and that India’s foreign ministry had been in touch with 16 other Indian crewmembers.

“The crew members are in good health and in contact with their family members in India,” the ministry said in a statement cited by Reuters.