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The U.S. State Department has strongly condemned Iran’s seizure of a container ship, the MSC Aries, near the Strait of Hormuz and urged Tehran to immediately release the vessel and its crew.

A State Department spokesperson told VOA’s Persian Service that the vessel, flying the Portuguese flag and owned by Britain, was seized in “international waters,” and its crew consists of nationals from India, the Philippines, Pakistan, Russia, and Estonia.

Saturday’s seizure of a non-military vessel, even without any provocation on its part, is deemed a “blatant violation of international laws” and “piracy” by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), classified as a “foreign terrorist organization,” said the spokesperson.

The official stressed that this action “must be unequivocally condemned, and we will work with our partners to ensure Iran is held accountable for its actions.”

The state news agency IRNA reported Saturday that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had seized an “Israel-linked ship” in the Strait of Hormuz.

International shipping company Zodiac Maritime said in a statement that MSC is the manager and commercial operator of the vessel seized Saturday by Iranian authorities.

Israel Katz, the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, urged the “European Union and the free world” to “immediately declare the IRGC as a terrorist organization and sanction Iran now.”

He posted on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, that “The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has seized a Portuguese civilian cargo ship, belonging to an EU member, claiming Israeli ownership.”

“The Ayatollah regime of Khamenei is a criminal regime that supports Hamas’ crimes and is now conducting a pirate operation in violation of international law,” he said.

The ship seizure came before Iran launched missiles and drones toward Israel, retaliating after blaming Israel for the bombing of the Iranian consulate in Damascus. Israel says it air defenses were successful in defending against the Iranian attack.