The Iranian naval force that seized an MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company-chartered container ship at the weekend has been hit with UK sanctions.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy — one of Iran’s two naval forces — was targeted after its forces hijacked the 15,000-teu MSC Aries (built 2020) on 13 April in the Strait of Hormuz.

The British government also called for the release of the 25-strong crew on board the ship, which is being held off the coast of Iran between the islands of Qeshm and Hormuz.

UK foreign secretary David Cameron said: “The MSC Aries and its crew should be released immediately and Iran should halt its reckless and unlawful behaviour. Further escalation is in no one’s interest.”

The crew includes 17 seafarers from India. One of them, Ann Tessa Joseph, was allowed to leave the ship and arrived back in India on Wednesday, according to India’s foreign affairs ministry.

The sanctions announced on Thursday were coordinated by the US and UK and target Iran’s military, its drone and missile programmes and its steel and car industries.

The military figures were seen as responsible for launching hundreds of missiles and drones against Israel in retaliation for an attack on an Iranian consulate building in Damascus on 1 April, which killed two IRGC commanders.

The IRGC Navy was the only maritime-related blacklisting by the two countries amid speculation that the US would also target Iran’s oil exports under pressure from Israel.

But US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen said: “We will continue to deploy our sanctions authority to counter Iran with further actions in the days and weeks ahead.”

The MSC Aries is chartered to and operated by MSC and owned by an affiliate of London-headquartered Zodiac Maritime.

The IRGC-linked Fars news agency described the Portugal-flagged MSC Aries as a ship “related to the Israeli regime”.

Zodiac is ultimately owned by Israeli-born billionaire Eyal Ofer, who is based in Monaco. The MSC Aries was pictured earlier this week close to three other ships seized by Iran.

The MSC Aries shown near Iran with three seized tankers. Photo: Planet Labs

The UK said it was working with G7 partners “to consider further measures to hold Iran’s regime to account”.

The IRGC Navy was one of six bodies and seven individuals targeted by the UK programme.