Dubai, United Arab Emirates — The US Navy said Monday its sailors and Britain’s Royal Navy came to the aid of a ship in the crucial Strait of Hormuz after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards “harassed” it.
Three Guard Fast Attack ships with armed troops on board approached the merchant ship at close range on Sunday afternoon, the US Navy said in a statement. Black-and-white images purported to be of a US Navy Boeing P-8 Poseidon in the sky were offered, showing three small ships near the merchant vessel.
The US Navy’s guided missile destroyer USS McFaul and the Royal Navy’s frigate HMS Lancaster responded to the incident by having the Lancaster launch a helicopter.
“The situation de-escalated about an hour later when the merchant ship confirmed that the fast attack ship had left the scene of the accident,” the Navy said. “The merchant ship proceeded through the Strait of Hormuz without further incident.”
The Strait of Hormuz, the narrow estuary of the Persian Gulf, carries 20% of the world’s oil.
While the Navy did not identify the vessel involved, MarineTraffic.com vessel tracking data analyzed by The Associated Press showed that the Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier Venture was changing course erratically while navigating the straits at the time of the incident. Its location also matched information about the incident made by the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, a British military operation monitoring traffic in the area. The ship 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.
Iranian state media and the Revolutionary Guard did not immediately take note of the incident. The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This latest incident comes after a series of maritime incidents involving Iran after the US unilaterally withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.
The alleged American seizure of the Suez Rajan, a tanker linked to a US private equity firm believed to have been transporting sanctioned Iranian crude off Singapore, likely prompted Tehran to recently launch the flagship to take over the tanker Advantage Sweet, which is sailing on the Marshall Islands. This ship carried Kuwaiti crude oil for the energy company Chevron Corp. from San Ramon, California.
Though authorities have not confirmed the seizure of the Suez Rajan, the ship is now off the coast of Galveston, Texas, according to ship tracking data analyzed by the AP.
Meanwhile, Iran separately seized the Niovi, a Panamanian-flagged tanker, as it left a dry dock in Dubai, UAE, and headed for Fujairah on the east coast of the UAE. Although no cargo was carried, data from S&P Global Market Intelligence seen by the AP showed that the Niovi received oil in July 2020 from a vessel then known as the Oman Pride.
The U.S. Treasury Department in August 2021 imposed sanctions on the Oman Pride and others associated with the ship for being “involved in an international oil smuggling network” supporting the Quds Force, the Guard’s expeditionary force that operates across the Middle East. Emails allegedly published online by Wikiran, a website promoting leaked documents from the Islamic Republic, indicate that the cargo carried by the Niovi was resold to companies in China without authorization.
Satellite images analyzed by the AP show these two ships are anchored off Bandar Abbas, Iran.
The recent confiscations have put new pressure on the US, which has long been the guarantor of security for the Arab Gulf States. The United Arab Emirates last week claimed it had previously “withdrawn its involvement in a joint naval command called the Combined Maritime Forces,” although the US Navy said it was still part of the group. Meanwhile, the US military’s Central Command said on Saturday its chief had visited the region, met with Emirati leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and “discussed shared regional security concerns as well as US-UAE security partnerships.”
The commanders of the US, British and French navies based in the Middle East also crossed the Strait of Hormuz aboard an American warship on Friday last month, a sign of their united effort to keep the vital waterway open after Iran seized the two oil tankers had.
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