Iran tried to seize two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz early on Wednesday, opening fire on one of them, the US Navy has said. The Iranian naval vessels backed off after the US Navy dispatched a guided missile destroyer to the scene, they added, reporting that both commercial ships then continued their voyages.
A spokesman for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet said the gunfire directed at the second vessel did not cause casualties or any major damage.
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“The Iranian navy did make attempts to seize commercial tankers lawfully transiting international waters,” said Cmdr. Tim Hawkins, the US Navy spokesman.
“The US Navy responded immediately and prevented those seizures,” he added.
The US Navy said an Iranian naval vessel approached the Marshall Islands-flagged TRF Moss in the Gulf of Oman at around 1am.
The US deployed the USS McFaul, a guided-missile destroyer, as well as as MQ-9 Reaper drone and a P-8 Poseidon patrol plane.
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Three hours later, the US Navy received a distress call from the Bahamian-flagged oil tanker Richmond Voyager more than 20 nautical miles off the coast of Muscat, the capital of Oman.
The Navy said another Iranian naval vessel had closed within a mile of the tanker and had ordered it to stop.
The same US destroyer sped toward the tanker at “maximum speed,” the Navy said in a statement.
“Prior to McFaul’s arrival on scene, Iranian personnel fired multiple, long bursts from both small arms and crew-served weapons,” it said.
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The US Navy says Iran has seized at least five commercial vessels in the last two years and has harassed more than a dozen others.
Many of the incidents have occurred in and around the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20 percent of all crude oil passes.
In April, masked Iranian navy commandos conducted a helicopter-borne raid to seize a US-bound oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, footage of which was aired on Iranian state TV.
Iran said the tanker was seized after it collided with another Iranian vessel but provided no evidence. In the past, Iran has seized commercial vessels to use as bargaining chips with the West.
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