DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The U.S. Navy said Monday that its sailors and the British Royal Navy came to the aid of a ship after Iran’s Revolutionary Guard “harassed” it in the Strait of Hormuz.
The US Navy said in a statement that three fast attack patrol vessels with armed forces came within close range of the merchant vessel on Sunday afternoon. It provided black-and-white images, which it said came from a US Navy Boeing P-8 Poseidon overhead, that showed three small vessels near the merchant vessel.
The US Navy’s guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul and the Royal Navy’s battleship HMS Lancaster responded to the incident, with Lancaster launching a helicopter.
“About an hour later, the situation worsened when the merchant vessel confirmed that the fast attack vessel had left the scene,” the navy said. “The merchant vessel continued its passage through the Strait of Hormuz without incident.”
The Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf, carries 20% of the world’s oil.
Although the Navy did not identify the vessel involved, ship tracking data from MarineTraffic.com analyzed by The Associated Press showed that the Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier Venture took the wrong course while traveling through the strait during the incident. Its location also matched information about the incident provided by the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, a British military operation overseeing traffic in the region. The ship also resembled pictures released by the Navy.
The ship’s registered manager, Trust Bulgars of Athens, Greece, did not respond to a request for comment.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency later quoted Rear Adm. Abbas Gholamshahi as saying that his ships were simply responding to a distress signal from the ship. However, the signal came as armed men were spotted on small vessels identified by the navy.
The latest incident comes after a series of maritime incidents involving Iran following the United States’ unilateral withdrawal from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.
The US has seized Suez Rajan, a tanker linked to an American private equity firm believed to be carrying Iranian crude oil sanctioned from Singapore.This may have prompted Tehran to take the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker Advantage Sweet recently.. The vessel was carrying Kuwaiti crude oil to Chevron Corporation, an energy company of San Ramon, California.
While officials have not acknowledged the seizure of the Suez Rajan, the vessel is now off the coast of Galveston, Texas, according to vessel tracking data analyzed by the AP.
Meanwhile, Iran has separately seized a Panamanian-flagged tanker named Neovi, which was docked in dry dock in Dubai, United Arab Emirates., heading to Fujairah on the east coast of the United Arab Emirates. While carrying no cargo, data from S&P Global Market Intelligence seen by the AP showed that Neovi received oil from the ship, then known as Oman Pride, in July 2020.
In August 2021 the US Treasury cleared the Oman Pride and others associated with the vessel “engaged in an international oil smuggling network” that supported the Guard’s expeditionary force, the Kutz Force, which operates across the Middle East. Emails released by Vikiran Online, a website seeking leaked documents from the Islamic Republic, suggest that cargo carried by Neovi was sold to companies in China without permission.
Satellite images analyzed by the AP show two ships anchored in Bandar Abbas, Iran..
The recent seizures have put new pressure on the United States, the long-term security guarantor of the Gulf Arab states. The United Arab Emirates said last week it had “withdrawn its participation” from a joint naval command called the Combined Maritime Forces, although the US Navy said it was still in the group. Meanwhile, the head of the US military’s Central Command visited the region on Saturday, meeting with Emirati President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to “discuss shared regional security concerns and the US-UAE security partnership.”
The commanders of the US, British and French navies based in the Middle East crossed the Strait of Hormuz on Friday last month aboard a US warship.A sign of their concerted approach to keeping the vital waterway open after Iran seized two oil tankers.
Follow John Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.