Tuesday Reuters reports that according to the Pentagon, Iranian forces boarded a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship in the Gulf on Tuesday after patrol boats fired warning shots across its bow and ordered it deeper into Iranian waters. The vessel, the MV Maersk Tigris, made a distress call in the Strait of Hormuz, which is one of the world’s most important oil shipping channels. After the distress call, the U.S. Navy sent the destroyer USS Farragut and a Navy maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft to the area of the incident to monitor the situation.
Al Arabiya disclosed the MV Maersk Tigris was intercepted by the Naval force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) at 0905 GMT. According to a Pentagon spokesman, the ship had no U.S. citizens aboard. This contradicts earlier reports which said there were 34 U.S. sailors on board. The managing company of the vessel told a Danish news channel there were 24 crew members, mostly from Eastern Europe and Asia.
The Pentagon described the event as an apparent provocation. However, an attempt to play down the incident by an unidentified source was reported by Iran’s Tasnim news agency. Iran’s Fars news agency claims the ship was seized at the request of Iran’s ports authority under a court order.
According to the State Department’s website, the Marshall Islands gained independence from the United States in 1986, but the U.S. continues to have “full authority and responsibility for security and defense of the Marshall Islands,” reported the Washington Times Tuesday. Although the shipping route through the Strait of Hormuz is in Iranian territorial waters, ships typically pass through with no issues under rules of innocent passage, which allow ships to pass through as long as they follow international law.
The cargo ship was directed to waters near Larak Island. The island sits off the major Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and is one of several in the Strait of Hormuz, reports ABC News. Bandar Abbas is the main port for Iran’s Navy and separate naval forces operated by the elite Revolutionary Guard, as well as the country’s primary commercial port. It overlooks the Strait of Hormuz, the highly strategic waterway at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
American and allied naval forces routinely patrol the strait and have conducted military drills aimed at countering threats such as sea mines that Iran might use to close the waterway. Not to be outdone, Tehran frequently conducts military exercises of its own in and around the strait. Large-scale, live-fire naval drills in February saw Revolutionary Guard forces assault a replica of a U.S. aircraft carrier built in a Bandar Abbas shipyard. Coincidence?
The Iranian vessels, numbering five or six, were with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman said. The incident began at about 4:05 a.m. U.S. Eastern Daylight Time.