Russia pushes Iran to release its sailor from captured Israeli container ship

Russia pushes Iran to release its sailor from captured Israeli container ship
Russian merchant sailor under arrest in Iran for working on Israeli ship. / CC: IRGC Media
By bne Tehran bureau April 16, 2024

Iranian authorities said they would provide Russian embassy officials with access to its citizen who was captured as part of the crew of the Israeli-owned MSC Aries, its Telegram channel reported on April 16.

Russia is currently in a unique position as it maintains good relations with both Iran and Israel. It has developed close ties with Iran due to its need for weapons in Ukraine and its important trade relationship. On the other hand, Russia has a significant number of its citizens living in Israel.

“The Iranian side promised to provide access to our citizen in the near future. As soon as this happens, embassy staff will personally visit Timofey Kolchanov,” the message says.

The sailor has already been given the opportunity to talk with his family by phone, the diplomatic mission noted.

The embassy said the Aries ship was in the port of Bandar Abbas in southern Iran.

On April 13, Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) naval forces seized the Portuguese-flagged container ship Aries in the Strait of Hormuz. The ship belongs to the company of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer.

Russian Timofey Kolchanov works as a senior engineer on the ship; the crew also includes citizens of India, the Philippines, Pakistan and Estonia.

The Russian embassy said it was communicating with Iranian authorities to find out details of the Russian citizen's stay on board the Aries.

The seizure of the ship occurred against the backdrop of worsening relations between Israel and Iran. On April 1, Israel sent an airstrike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria, which killed seven soldiers. Iran responded with a massive missile and drone attack on Israel.

Several Indian sailors were also working on the ship, with 17 of the 25 crew from India alone all under arrest in Iran.

According to reports, the Indian Foreign Minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, expressed concerns about the situation of 17 Indian crew members aboard the seized ship in a call with his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

The Iranian government has given assurance that they will assist in the matter and that representatives of the Indian government will soon be able to meet with the crew.

The Portuguese-flagged ship, which is managed by MSC and linked to Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, was intercepted by Iranian troops approximately 50 miles off the coast of the UAE.

Video footage obtained by bne IntelliNews appeared to show troops rappelling onto the vessel from a helicopter. However, no timeline has been given for the release of the ship.