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India demands 'unconditional release' of tanker detained by Iran

Indian foreign secretary Sujatha Singh has petitioned Iran for the “unconditional” release of Desh Shanti, the tanker under arrest at Bandar Abbas port.

The Lloyd's Register-classed ship, which was seized on charges of polluting Iranian waters with discharges of oily ballast water, has been detained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps since 12 August, costing owner Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) $30,000-35,000 per day.

In a Ministry of External Affairs statement, spokesman Syed Akbaruddin indicated that Singh has been in discussion with Iranian ambassador Gholamreza Ansari since August 16, India's Livemint reports. "The Foreign Secretary has conveyed the Government's strong concern at the continued detention of our ship in the Port of Bandar Abbas, and the Government of India's expectation was that the ship would be released at an early date and that crew members would be treated with all due consideration and courtesy in keeping with international norms. Officials of both sides will make another effort to resolve this issue amicably."

External Affairs minister Salman Khurshid declared that two weeks "is really too long for something like this to happen,” remarking that “I am sure the decision has not been taken at the level of Central government of Iran."

Meanwhile, unions are threatening action against SCI over the worsening conditions for the ship’s 32 crew. “The men on board are under severe mental stress as their communication is being monitored. The Iranian guards fear the crew may destroy evidence on board,” said Abdulgani Serang, general secretary of the National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI), speaking to The Hindu. “The crew is in a situation like hostages during a piracy attack.”

A week ago, India rejected Iranian demands for a $1m letter of guarantee for the release of the ship, on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence for its detainment. “Why should we give the letter of undertaking? We are not responsible for the pollution," BK Mandal, Shipping Corporation’s finance director, said last week.

Posted 28 August 2013

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