US ship fires warning shots at Iranian boats in Strait of Hormuz

Boats approached US fleet in ‘unsafe’ manner and behaved ‘aggressively’, Pentagon says

A file photograph of the USS Georgia, the guided-missile submarine that the United States Coast Guard ship was accompanying near the Strait of Hormuz when it fired warning shots at Iranian fast boats. File photograph: Getty Images

A file photograph of the USS Georgia, the guided-missile submarine that the United States Coast Guard ship was accompanying near the Strait of Hormuz when it fired warning shots at Iranian fast boats. File photograph: Getty Images

 

A United States Coast Guard ship accompanying a guided-missile submarine and other vessels near the Strait of Hormuz fired warning shots after a group of 13 Iranian fast boats approached them in an “unsafe” manner on Monday, the Pentagon’s spokesman said.

The group of fast boats controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) came as close as 137 metres to the US ships when a Coast Guard cutter, the Maui, fired about 30 warning shots from a .50-calibre machine gun, spokesman John Kirby told reporters. He said the Iranian vessels were behaving “very aggressively”.

As they neared the US vessels, two of the 13 fast boats “broke away from the larger group, transited to the opposite side of the US formation and approached Maui and Squall from behind at a high rate of speed [in excess of 32 knots] with their weapons uncovered and manned,” the US navy said in a statement. The Squall is a Cyclone-class patrol ship.

The Fifth Fleet, responsible for US naval forces in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Arabian Sea, said US crews issued multiple warnings to the Iranian boats before firing the warning shots. The US ships were accompanying the USS Georgia, a submarine refitted to attack land targets with as many as 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and to deploy up to 66 navy sea, air and land teams. The Georgia was sailing on the surface, a rare move for a US submarine on patrol in a tense region such as the greater Persian Gulf.

US-Iran tensions

The encounter is the latest sign of US-Iran tensions in the Middle East and the second time an American ship fired at an Iranian vessel in recent weeks. Late last month, the US released footage of the USS Firebolt firing at Iranian fast boats that came within about 62 metres. In early April, an Iranian boat pulled in front of another Coast Guard vessel, though no shots were fired.

“It’s unsafe, it’s unprofessional, and this kind of activity is the kind of activity that could lead to somebody getting hurt and could lead to a real miscalculation in the region,” Mr Kirby said. “Sadly, harassment by the IRGC navy is not a new phenomenon.”

The American ships were entering the Persian Gulf when they were approached, Mr Kirby said. The encounters come despite US and Iranian negotiators taking part in indirect talks in Vienna over how to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement. – Bloomberg