The United States Navy has said its sailors and the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy came to the aid of a ship in the crucial Strait of Hormuz after Iran’s Revolutionary Guard allegedly “harassed” it.
Three fast-attack Guard vessels with armed troops on board approached the merchant ship at a close distance on Sunday afternoon, the US Navy said in a statement.
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It shared black-and-white images, which showed three small ships close to the commercial vessel, taken by a US Navy Boeing P-8 Poseidon that was flying overhead.
The US Navy’s guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul and the Royal Navy’s frigate HMS Lancaster responded to the incident, with the Lancaster launching a helicopter.
“The situation deescalated approximately an hour later when the merchant vessel confirmed the fast-attack craft departed the scene,” the Navy said. “The merchant ship continued transiting the Strait of Hormuz without further incident.”
About 20 percent of the world’s oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.
While the Navy did not identify the vessel involved, ship-tracking data from MarineTraffic.com analysed by The Associated Press showed the Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier Venture erratically changed course as it travelled through the strait at the time of the incident.
Its location also matched information about the incident given by the UK Maritime Trade Operations, a UK military operation overseeing traffic in the region. The vessel also resembled the images released by the Navy.
The ship’s registered manager, Trust Bulkers of Athens, Greece, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Responding to the claims on Monday, IRGC Navy commander Abbas Gholamshahi said a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel issued a distress call on the international channel, which the elite force responded to.
He said the captain of the ship had said three non-military fast boats were moving a few miles from the vessel, which prompted the IRGC to investigate and “resolve the captain’s concerns”.
“There were no extra-regional vessels in the area where the commercial ship requested assistance, and such claims are completely false,” he said, reiterating Tehran’s position that Iran is fully capable of securing the waters’ security and does not need foreign help.
The incident comes after a series of maritime incidents involving Iran following the US unilaterally withdrawing from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.
The US is suspected to have seized the Suez Rajan, a tanker linked to a US private equity firm and believed to have been carrying sanctioned Iranian crude oil off Singapore.
While authorities have not acknowledged the Suez Rajan’s seizure, the vessel is now off the coast of Galveston, Texas, according to ship-tracking data analysed by the AP.
At the end of April, Iran seized the Turkish-operated, Chinese-owned tanker Advantage Sweet, which was carrying Kuwaiti crude oil for the US energy firm Chevron. Iran said the tanker collided with an unidentified Iranian vessel hours before it was seized.
In early May, Iran seized the Niovi, a Panama-flagged tanker, as it left a dry dock in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, bound for Fujairah on the UAE’s eastern coast. While not carrying any cargo, data from S&P Global Market Intelligence seen by the AP showed the Niovi in July 2020 received oil from a ship known then as the Oman Pride.
The US Treasury in August 2021 sanctioned the Oman Pride and others associated with the vessel over it being “involved in an international oil smuggling network” that supported the Quds Force, the expeditionary unit of the Guard that operates across the Middle East.