Iranian navy vessels shot at a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz and directed it further into Iranian territorial waters, the Pentagon confirmed. U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) has sent aircraft to observe and directed USS Farragut (DDG-99) to monitor the situation.
After the 52,600 gross ton cargo ship was surrounded by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) patrol craft, “the master was contacted and directed to proceed further into Iranian territorial waters,” according to a statement from Pentagon spokesman U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren.
“He declined and one of the IRGCN craft fired shots across the bridge of the Maersk Tigris. The master complied with the Iranian demand and proceeded into Iranian waters in the vicinity of Larak Island.”
Warren said that NAVCENT is in touch with the shipping company and continues to monitor the situation. The shipping company told NAVCENT there are no Americans onboard, he added.
The state-owned Iranian outlet Fars News Agency reported it “confiscated the American trade vessel” at the request of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization.
“The ship was seized after a relevant court order was issued for its confiscation,” a source is quoted as saying. The story adds that the IPMO had monetary differences with the ship owner, and the IRGCN would escort the ship to Bandar Abbas.
According to Vessel Finder, the container ship made its last port stop in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after several stops earlier in the month throughout Turkey, and was headed to Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates. The ship was expected to reach its destination at 21:30 UTC/Zulu time. Instead, the ship was last reported at 14:20 Zulu off the coast of Bandar Abbas, Iran, near the narrowest part of the Strait of Hormuz. Warren said the IRGCN vessels surrounded the cargo ship at 0905 Zulu.
The IRGCN was formed after Iran’s revolution in 1979 and was strengthened in the 1990s after lessons learned from the Iran-Iraq War throughout the 1980s. In contrast to the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN), IRGCN is the favored navy – with more prestige and therefore more funding, according to the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI)
In 2007, the two navies, which had previously operated side by side, split up areas of responsibility: IRIN took command of the Caspian Sea and Gulf of Oman, while IRGCN took full control of the Persian Gulf. “Because Iran’s naval doctrine is based upon access denial, the realignment of IRIN assets further into the Gulf of Oman and the concentration of IRGCN fast boats, suicide boats, and coastal defense cruise missiles in the Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf better allow Iranian naval assets to contribute to and extend Iran’s layered defense strategy,” according to the ONI report, Iran’s Naval Forces.
The most dramatic IRGCN seizure incident occurred in 2007. IRGCN speedboats seized a boarding team embarked from U.K. Royal Navy destroyer HMS Cornwall. The sailors were tasked with checking merchant vessels in the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). The 15 member crew of the Royal Navy rigid hull inflatable boat was held for more than two weeks with Tehran asserting the crew had strayed into Iranian territorial waters.
The Republic of the Marshal Islands is a sovereign nation but is tied to the United States through a Compact of Free Association. The republic can conduct its own foreign relations, but the United States “has full authority and responsibility for security and defense of the Marshall Islands,” according to the State Department.
The following is the complete Tuesday statement from the Pentagon:
“At approximately 0905 Zulu, April 28, M/V Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo vessel, was approached by several Iranian IRGCN patrol vessels while in Iranian territorial waters transiting inbound in the Strait of Hormuz. The master was contacted and directed to proceed further into Iranian territorial waters. He declined and one of the IRGCN craft fired shots across the bridge of the Maersk Tigris. The master complied with the Iranian demand and proceeded into Iranian waters in the vicinity of Larak Island. NAVCENT directed a DDG (USS Farragut) to proceed at best speed to the nearest location of Maersk Tigris, and directed aircraft to observe the interaction between the Maersk vessel and the IRGCN craft. NAVCENT is communicating with representatives of the shipping company and we continue to monitor the situation. According to information received from the vessel’s operators, there are no Americans aboard.”