The Cable

Pentagon: Navy Ready to Help Iranian-Held Ship

U.S. Navy ships holding fast in the Strait of Hormuz; Iran continues to hold commercial ship

CTG 55.2 Group Formation
140408-N-TM257-192 ARABIAN GULF (April 8, 2014) - Patrol coastal ships USS Firebolt (PC 10), front right, USS Thunderbolt (PC 12), and USS Whirlwind (PC 11), all assigned to Patrol Coastal Squadron One, transit alongside one another during a formation exercise, April 8. U.S. coastal patrol ships are deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Taylor M. Smith/Released)

Defense Department officials say that they’ve been given no clear explanation as to why Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps boats have harassed commercial ships in two separate incidents in the Strait of Hormuz over the past week.

“The Iranians have given several different and differing reasons for their actions,” Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren said on Wednesday. “They’ve said it was some sort of security inspection, later they said there was some economic reasons. The Iranians have not been clear on why they have done this.”

On Tuesday, the USS Farragut responded to a distress call from the Marshall Island-flagged Maersk Tigris after it was surround by several Iranian craft, one of which fired across its bow and forced it deeper into Iranian waters without explanation.

The Maersk remains in Iranian custody, and is currently at rest near Larak Island. The shipping company said on Wednesday morning that the 24 crew members were all safe and accounted for, and the company was working to secure the release of the ship.

A similar but less serious incident occurred on April 24 when four Iranian vessels encircled and harassed the U.S.-flagged Maersk Kensington while it was sailing in international waters in the southern part of the Arabian Gulf.

Warren said that the Kensington incident lasted for approximately 15 to 20 minutes before the Iranian vessels sailed off.

While the Farragut has not entered Iranian waters, the ship — along with three newly-arrived U.S. Navy patrol craft, the USS Firebolt, USS Thunderbolt, USS Typhoon, along with surveillance planes — have moved nearby to continue “keeping an eye on things,” and “will be able to respond if a response is required,” Warren said.

The United States has a security compact with the Marshall Islands on defense issues, and on Wednesday State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf confirmed that the U.S. “has full authority and responsibility of security matters” when it comes to the Marshall Islands, to include their shipping assets. She added while the country has asked for American assistance she is unaware of the details of the request, though the U.S. government is still determining “the best steps forward.”

Photo Credit: U.S. Navy

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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