Desk (Bangladeshtime): Iranian patrol boats intercepted a cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday and forced it into Iranian territorial waters by firing shots across its bow, prompting the US Navy to send a destroyer and reconnaissance plane to monitor the situation.
Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats confronted the MV Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel, as it was traversing one of the world’s most important oil shipping channels and forced it to divert toward Larak Island near Bandar Abbas, where it was boarded by Iranian forces, US officials said.
The Iranian action occurred amid heightened tensions over the conflict in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition supported by Washington has been bombing Iranian backed Houthi rebels, who have seized much of the country and sidelined the US-backed president.
Saudi jets bombed the airport in Yemen’s capital on Tuesday to prevent Iranian planes from landing. The ship seizure also came at a sensitive time as Tehran is inching toward a final deal with major powers on its nuclear programme.
The Maersk Tigris, which is managed and crewed by Rickmers Shipmanagement, is on-hire to Maersk Line.
Alerted by a distress call from the Maersk Tigris, the US Navy dispatched the destroyer USS Farragut toward the scene as well as a reconnaissance aircraft, the Pentagon said. Army Colonel Steve Warren said firing shots across the bow of a cargo vessel was “inappropriate” and seemed “provocative.”
The incident came just four days after Iranian patrol boats surrounded a US-flagged vessel, the Maersk Kensington, and followed as it was in the same area, a US official said. No warning shots were fired in that incident.
Iranian officials sought to play down the ship seizure, saying it was a civil matter with no military or political dimension.
US officials said they were concerned and monitoring the situation, but an initial review indicated the United States did not have a legal obligation in a maritime environment to defend a Marshall Islands-flagged ship with no American crew.
Reuters tracking data showed the Maersk Tigris, a 65,000-tonne container ship, anchored off the Iranian coast between the islands of Qeshm and Hormuz. It had been listed as sailing from Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea port of Jeddah, bound for the United Arab Emirates port of Jebel Ali in the Gulf.
Iran’s state news agency, IRNA, quoted a source in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as saying the guard had seized the vessel and 34 crew. Rickmers said there were 24 crew, mostly from eastern Europe and Asia.
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