Three Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy armed speedboats were met with warning shots from a U.S. warship after they came within 68 yards of U.S. naval vessels in the Persian Gulf on Monday, according to a statement from the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet in Bahrain.
U.S. Navy patrol craft USS Firebolt and U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Baranof were “conducting routine maritime security operations in international waters” at approximately 8 p.m. local time when the Iranian boats “rapidly approached … with unknown intent.”
This was a clear violation of international maritime law.
The crews onboard the U.S. ships “issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and loud-hailer devices,” but they were ignored.
The report stated that “Throughout the interaction, U.S. forces proactively communicated with the IRGCN vessels and executed pre-planned responses to reduce the risk of miscalculation, avoid a collision, and to de-escalate the situation.”
Finally, Firebolt’s crew fired off several warning shots, at which point the Iranian speedboats rethought the wisdom of harassing the U.S. vessels and moved away.
The Navy said the “IRGCN’s actions increased the risk of miscalculation and/or collision, were not in accordance with the internationally recognized Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) ‘rules of the road’ or internationally recognized maritime customs.”
The report stressed commanding officers “retain the inherent right to act in self-defense. … Our forces are trained, however, to conduct effective defensive measures when necessary.”
The Navy disclosed a similar incident had occurred on April 2 in the southern region of the Persian Gulf in international waters. The Navy’s statement said several IRGCN fast boats and one larger vessel “conducted an unsafe and unprofessional action by crossing the bow” of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Monomoy.
A more detailed description of the episode appeared in The Wall Street Journal, which reported the fast boats “swarmed” U.S. Coast Guard cutters Monomoy and Wrangell.
According to The Journal, navy officials said “The larger [IRGCN] vessel repeatedly crossed in front of the bows of the two U.S. vessels, the Monomoy and the Wrangell, coming as close as 70 yards away. … That forced the Wrangell to make defensive maneuvers to avoid a collision.”
This continued for over three hours.
Just as the crews of the Firebolt and the Baranof reacted during Monday’s encounter, the crews of the Monomoy and the Wrangell issued warnings over the bridge-to-bridge radio, which were ignored.
It’s not clear what finally drove the Iranians away from the latter ships.
The Iranians have been testing ships in the Persian Gulf more in recent years, especially those belonging to America and our allies. This is a dangerous part of the world to operate in since this foe is so well-equipped and the Gulf is their home turf.
We all remember when U.S. sailors were captured by Iran’s IRGC in January 2016 during the Obama Administration. Two U.S. patrol vessels had unintentionally drifted into Iranian territorial waters and 10 sailors were detained for about 15 hours, according to Reuters.
Humiliating photos released by Iran’s state media showed the sailors on their knees with their hands behind their heads as they were taken into custody.
After the sailors were released, then-Secretary of State John Kerry publicly thanked the Iranians for their “cooperation and quick response” and said the sailors appeared to be “well taken care of” during a speech at the National Defense University, according to The Hill.
Several days later, President Barack Obama signed an order to lift sanctions against Iran, according to USA Today.
The Journal reported that for reasons the Navy cannot or will not explain, this type of maritime harassment by the Iranians, “inexplicably stopped” in 2018. Perhaps it had something to do with the fear of reprisal from then-President Donald Trump.
At the risk of reading too much into the two April incidents, it’s entirely possible Iran is trying to send a message to the new U.S. president who doesn’t appear to be quite as strong as his predecessor. The Biden administration would be wise to pay attention.
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