U.S. Sends Ship, Planes as Iranians Seize Commercial Ship

WASHINGTON–A U.S. Navy destroyer was rushed to the area of a confrontation Tuesday between Iranian warships and a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz amid increased tensions in the region over the simmering conflict in Yemen, the Pentagon said.

The USS Farragut sped to the scene after Iranian sailors fired warning shots across the bow of the M/V Maersk Tigris that was in Iranian waters, said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. The warning shots were fired after the cargo ship refused Iranian orders to head further into Iranian waters, Col. Warren said.
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After the Iranian ship fired the warning shots, the cargo ship changed course and complied with the order, Col. Warren said. The ship was directed to proceed to Larak Island by Iranian vessels, he said. Iranian sailors from the Iranian vessel then boarded the ship. The ship is currently under the control of Iranian forces, officials said.

In response to the confrontation, the U.S. Navy sent the Farragut and U.S. planes to keep watch on the confrontation.

The U.S. is observing the Maersk Tigris with a Navy maritime patrol and reconnaissance plane, Col. Warren said.

After being confronted by the Iranians, the cargo ship issued a distress call on an open radio channel. Officers at the U.S. 5th Fleet Headquarters directed the Farragut and the Navy planes to respond.

At a briefing for reporters at the Pentagon, Col. Warren said the action by Iranian forces to fire shots at the cargo ship was inappropriate.

“At first appearance this does seem to be provocative behavior but we don’t have all the facts yet,” he said.

The Iranian vessels weren’t part of the regular Iranian Navy but were part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps naval force, Col. Warren said. Iranian ships under the command of the IRGC have been involved in a series of provocative incidents in the Persian Gulf in recent years, U.S. officials have said.
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USS Farragut
There were believed to be about three dozen crew members on the cargo ship, none of them American, according to U.S. military officials.

Col. Warren said the Tigris was in a shipping lane, but inside Iranian waters when it was confronted by the Iranian vessels. Col. Warren said the navigation principle known as “innocent passage” should have been applied to allow the cargo vessel to pass through the strait.

The confrontation came amid increased tensions in the region because of Saudi Arabia’s ongoing military operations against Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen.

Last week, the U.S. Navy sent an aircraft carrier into the region to keep watch on an Iranian flotilla that American officials suspected of carrying weapons bound for Houthi forces in Yemen. President Barack Obama warned Iran not to try to arm the militants in Yemen, and the cargo ships turned back toward Iran, averting a potential confrontation in Gulf of Aden.

The Iranian flotilla is still in the Arabian Sea and Pentagon officials are still keeping watch to make sure it doesn’t turn back and try to head back toward Yemen.

The flotilla has turned east and is proceeding toward the Strait of Hormuz, Col. Warren said Tuesday.

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