Iranian IRGC speedboat escalates tensions with US Navy

A US Navy warship fired a warning flare to wave off an Iranian IRGC speedboat coming straight at it during a tense encounter in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, officials said Tuesday.

The incident on Monday involving the Guard and the US navy comes as tensions remain high over stalled negotiations over Iran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers and as Tehran enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels under decreasing international oversight.

The Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Sirocco and Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport USNS Choctaw County found themselves in a close encounter with three Iranian fast boats while coming through the Strait of Hormuz to enter the Arabian Gulf, the US navy said.

In a video released by its Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, the IRGC speedboat, a high-speed Guard Boghammar is seen turning head-on toward the Sirocco. The Sirocco repeatedly blows its horn at the Boghammar, which turns away as it closes in. The flare shot can be heard, but not seen, as the Boghammar passes the Sirocco with the Iranian flag flying above it.

The US navy said the IRGC speedboat came within45 metres of the Sirocco, raising the risk of the vessels running into each other. The overall encounter lasted about an hour, the navy said.

The Guard’s “actions did not meet international standards of professional or safe maritime behaviour, increasing the risk of miscalculation and collision,” the Navy said.

Iran did not immediately acknowledge the incident in the strategic waterway, a fifth of all traded oil passes through the strait.

The US navy separately said that this marked the second so-called “unsafe and unprofessional” incident it had with Iran in recent months.

On March 4, three Guard ships had a tense encounter for over two hours with US Navy and US Coast Guard vessels as they travelled out of the Arabian Gulf through the strait, the navy said. In that incident, the Guard’s catamaran Shahid Nazeri came within 22 metres of the USCGC Robert Goldman, the navy said. It added: “The two US Coast Guard cutters issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and deployed warning flares.”

The US navy did not elaborate on why it did not announce the previous incident, particularly since a larger vessel came even closer to an American warship. However, that was just as a deal in Vienna between Iran and world powers on restoring the nuclear deal looked possible before the talks broke down.

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