The U.S. Navy fired warning shots Monday at three fast-attack craft of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps navy, which were harassing the coastal patrol boat Firebolt and U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat Baranoff — the latest in a series of such confrontations, the U.S. Navy said.
As the U.S. ships were conducting routine maritime security operations in the northern Arabian Gulf, the Iranian vessels approached the U.S. crews at “an unnecessarily close range with unknown intent,” according to the service.
Despite multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and loud-hailer devices from the U.S. ships, the dangerous maneuvers persisted. It wasn’t until the Firebolt fired warning shots that the Iranian vessels started to back off, the Navy said.
“The crew of Firebolt then fired warning shots, and the IRGCN vessels moved away to a safe distance from the U.S. vessels,” said Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokesperson for the 5th Fleet, in a statement.
The closest point of approach during the exchange was 68 yards for both the Firebolt and Baranoff, according to the Navy.
“The IRGCN’s actions increased the risk of miscalculation and/or collision, were not in accordance with the internationally recognized Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea ‘rules of the road’ or internationally recognized maritime customs,” Rebarich said.
“In addition, the IRGCN actions were not in accordance with the obligation under international law to act with due regard for the safety of other vessels in the area,” Rebarich said.
This isn’t the first of such exchanges in the past month. The Navy reported that the Iranian ship Harth 55 and three other fast-attack craft engaged in unsafe maneuvers near U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats Wrangell and Monomoy on April 2, prompting the Coast Guard ships to deliver a series of warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and five short blasts from the ships’ horns.
The Harth 55 “repeatedly crossed the bows of the U.S. vessels at extremely close range” and got within 70 yards of the Coast Guard vessels during the roughly three hour incident, the Navy said. The U.S. Coast Guard ships were in the midst of completing routine maritime security patrols in the southern Arabian Gulf.
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the April 2 incident.
IRGC vessels also harassed the Firebolt and Wrangell last year. In April 2020, 11 IRGC ships “repeatedly conducted dangerous and harassing approaches” of several U.S. warships — including the Firebolt and Wrangell — while they were completing air integration exercises with U.S. Army AH-64E Apache attack helicopters.
Vice Adm. James Malloy, deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, noted after that exchange that Iranian vessels continue to “act as provocateurs” in maritime settings and that he’s primarily concerned with the intent behind such actions.
“Sometimes their activities that are provocative in nature are just bad seamanship, and it still poses a threat to our force because it’s bad seamanship,” Malloy said in July 2020 during a Middle East Institute event.
The last time a Navy vessel fired warning shots at Iranian ships in the Arabian Gulf was in July 2017, when the Thunderbolt, a sister ship to the Firebolt, fired to warn off an IRG vessel. Regulations issued last year give Navy commanders the authority to take “lawful defensive measures” against vessels in the Mideast that come within 100 meters of their warships.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.