Home » Foreign Forces » Iran Seizes Marshall Islands Ship Maersk Tigris; U.S. Destroyer On Station


Iran Seizes Marshall Islands Ship Maersk Tigris; U.S. Destroyer On Station

An updated photo of Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy patrol vessels. FARS News Photo

An updated photo of Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy patrol vessels. FARS News Photo

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 track of the M/V Maersk Tigris before and after the seizure by IRGCN forces. Screen grab from MarineTraffic.com

The track of the M/V Maersk Tigris before and after the seizure by IRGCN forces. Screen shot from MarineTraffic.com

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)

Bandar Abbas, where the Maersk Tigris appeared to be headed, is IRIN’s headquarters and primary port for frigates and destroyers.

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.

An undated photo of M/V Maersk Tigris. Damietta Port Authority via Defense News

An undated photo of M/V Maersk Tigris. Damietta Port Authority via Defense News

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.”

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  • Phil Blank

    Here’s where “foreign news” get that its a US ship.

    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,” according to the State Department’s website

    • On Dre

      So foreign enough to avoid taxes but domestic enough to have the US Navy provide rescue service?

      • NavySubNuke

        Sounds like Apple or Google…..

      • Aaron Poche

        Word on the street that a lot of foreign countries allied to the US don’t pay taxes to the US.

      • USNVO

        Not really, although the U.S. Agrees to defend the Marshall Islands, the U.S. Is in no way obligated to protect ships flying the Marshall Island flag. A merchant flag merely indicates that the ship falls under the authority of the Marshall Islands for things like safety, law enforcement, training, etc. If the Iranian’s have a valid legal dispute with the shipowner, they would be within their rights to sieze the ship to settle the complaint. Again, none of this obliges the U.S. To do anything. In fact, just the opposite, the U.S. Has no international legal standing to do anything.

  • Just another intimidation tactic by Iran’s mullahs in response to the U.S. movement
    of warships into the Gulf of Aden to turn away an Iranian convoy filled with
    arms to supply the Houthis rebels in Yemen. Iran backed down in the face of a
    direct confrontation with the U.S. military and instead took on an unarmed
    cargo vessel. But it is nothing new for Iran which has regularly flexed its
    muscle in the Straits of Hormuz to remind the rest of the world it can bottle
    up the Persian Gulf when it so chooses. It is even more ironic considering Iran
    is busy trying to portray itself at the nuclear negotiating table as moderate
    and peace loving, yet it engages in these kinds of activities, not mention the
    proxy war it is running in Yemen which was the cause of all this in the first
    place.

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  • Marjus Plaku

    Evidence of a stretched Navy right here. Nearest surface combatant 60 miles from Hormuz? That’s the reality of the situation.

    • sandra schmidt

      How long would it have taken a fighter pilot to go 60 miles in his plane?

  • Matt

    How long would it have taken a F-18 to fly 100 miles to the scene from CVN-71? A burst of cannon fire across their bow would have been the end of it.

    • Marjus Plaku

      Not as long as it would have taken a council of under and 30 something old advisers telling their great councilor in Chief of the million rays of lights theory and how to best proceed withing taking a single step at all.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Sort of like Somali pirates, except with flags…

  • Eric Arllen

    Were the United States not universally known to be feckless and self-loathing, as Obama believes the correct understanding of what our role should be and actually is by virtue of his policies, neither Iran nor any other pissant dictatorship would dare do such a thing. The effective response to correct the malady will be patterned on President Reagan’s decisive strike on Libya in April 1986 in response to the murder of Americans by Libya in the bombing of the German nightclub. Not only did Libya behave properly for years afterwards, the ‘neighborhood’ behaved better, as well.

    • sferrin

      But we’re going to lift sanctions and allow them to build nuclear weapons in peace so there is that.

      “GO OBAMA!!!”

      • Eric Arllen

        Yup. Like I said, fecklessness and self-loathing enshrined in policy. Should work just like a charm.

        Perhaps by 2016 We The People will finally come to understand elections actually do have consequences, at least for now.

  • A 54000 ton ship and a bunch of dinky armed gunboats, actually speed boats. Well done IRGCG or what ever. A F18 flying over them at low level, going vertical, hit after burners, would have given the hero’s of Islam a wake up call. Would have been a blast aboard Farragut – proceed at best speed…hauling butt. MMCS(SW)(SS) USN Ret.

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  • Ed L

    Before the demise of the Perry Class Frigates. There use to be a couple of them on patrol. This is another nail in the coffin for a proper Frigate, and having Merchants Ships Armed themselves from privateers, pirates, thugs like the republican guard who operates by there own rules. When did merchant ships stop arming themselves?

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