The Iranian military appears to continue their testing of U.S. tolerance and restraint after a group of 13 Iranian ships harassed the American vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, prompting warning shots to be fired.
On Monday, the U.S. Navy detailed how Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) speed boats armed with machine guns “conducted unsafe and unprofessional maneuvers,” approaching U.S. ships “at a very fast speed” as the Navy and Coast Guard boats were escorting the submarine USS Georgia as it was transiting on the surface toward the Persian Gulf.
John Kirby spoke with the press, saying that “It’s certainly more [boats] than we’ve seen in recent past….It’s significant and … that it occurred in the strait, an international chokepoint waterway, that too is significant. And they were acting very aggressively.”
The Iranian armed boats rapidly approached the Navy guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey; patrol coastal ships USS Thunderbolt, USS Hurricane and USS Squall; Coast Guard patrol boats USCGC Wrangell and USCGC Maui; and the guided-missile submarine.
Two of the IRGCN boats broke away from the larger group, moved to the opposite side of the U.S. formation and “approached Maui and Squall from behind at a high rate of speed with their weapons uncovered and manned,” according to a Navy statement released later on Monday.
The two ships “failed to respond to repeated warnings” from the U.S. ones, which used horn blasts and radio warnings to ward off their approach, and got within 300 yards of the vessels before the Maui “exercised lawful de-escalatory measures by firing warning shots.”
The two IRGCN boats didn’t respond and closed to within 150 yards of Maui, at which time the Coast Guard ship fired additional warning shots.
In total, the Maui fired “approximately 30 warning shots on a .50-caliber machine gun” over two rounds of warning fire, Kirby said.
After the second round of warning shots, the 13 Iranian boats “broke contact.”
“Sadly, harassment by the IRGC Navy is not a new phenomenon. It is something that all our commanding officers and crews of our vessels are trained for,” Kirby said when asked whether the IRGCN are trying to provoke the American forces.
“It’s unsafe, it’s unprofessional and this kind of activity is the kind of activity that could lead to somebody getting hurt, and it could lead to a real miscalculation there in the region, and that doesn’t serve anybody’s interest,” he said.
The number of Iranian ships involved is more than quadruple the amount from a similar encounter late last month, when three IRGCN ships harassed U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels in the Persian Gulf.
The U.S. military also dealt with a similar incident in early April involving four IRGCN boats.