US warship fires warning shots at small Iranian boats

Second time this month, Iranian craft invaded US ships in the Persian Gulf

An earlier incident on April 2 marked the first time in more than a year that Iranian vessels harassed US vessels in the region.

Monday night’s incident occurred as three Iranian Navy Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGCN) speedboats approached the US Navy patrol boat USS Firebolt and US Coast Guard Cutter Baranoff operating in the northern Persian Gulf.

The three Iranian boats quickly approached the two US vessels at what a US Navy spokesman called “unnecessarily close distance, with unknown intent” coming within 68 meters of the two vessels.

“The American crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and loudspeakers, but the IRGCN ships continued maneuvering at close range,” said Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, spokeswoman for the Navy’s 5th Fleet, which oversees US naval operations in the Middle East.

“The Firebolt crew then fired warning shots and the IRGCN ships moved away to a safe distance from the American ships,” she added.

Rebarich said the actions of the three Iranian boats “increased the risk of miscalculation and/or collision” and did not follow maritime “rules of the road”.

The characterization of Monday’s incident was different from that of the April 2 incident which the Navy called “dangerous and unprofessional.”

“We don’t see this as a new trend,” Rebarich said of the two incidents. “We evaluate each interaction based on the facts and circumstances.”

She noted that during the April 2 incident, the IRGCN catamaran Harth 55 performed “aggressive, dangerous and harassing maneuvers against our vessels” while the intent of the three Iranian craft during Monday’s incident did not was “unclear”.

The Harth 55 repeatedly crossed ahead of the US Coast Guard Wrangell and the Monomoy on April 2, while both vessels were operating in the northern Persian Gulf. At one point, the Harth came within 70 yards of the American ships.

“The Harth 55 closed aggressively on Wrangell’s bow, causing Wrangell to maneuver to avoid the collision while sounding five short blasts from the ship’s horn,” Rebarich said.

Harth’s crew responded to bridge-to-bridge radio warnings from the American ships but “they continued the dangerous maneuvers,” Rebarich said.

“After approximately three hours of warnings and defensive maneuvers from the United States, the IRGCN ships moved away from the American vessels and opened the distance between them,” she added.

Iranian craft harassing US military vessels have become commonplace in recent years, but US officials were unsure why Iran had appeared to suspend such activities over the past year.

US Coast Guard vessels have operated in the Persian Gulf since 2003 and are under the control of US Naval Forces Central Command Task Force 55.

Earnest A. Martinez