WASHINGTON, April 28, 2015 —
U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain answered a distress call this morning issued by the Maersk Tigris container ship, after an Iranian Navy ship fired shots across its bridge and Iranian personnel boarded the commercial vessel, a Pentagon spokesman said today.
Army Col. Steve Warren told members of the Pentagon press corps that at about 2:05 a.m. Eastern Time, several Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, or IRGCN, patrol vessels approached the M/V Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo vessel.
The commercial ship was in Iranian territorial waters transiting inbound, or north, in the Strait of Hormuz, between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman in the Arabian Sea. It is one of the world’s major strategic choke points, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Shots Across the Bridge
“The ship's master was contacted and directed to proceed further into Iranian territorial waters. He declined and one of the IRGCN craft fired shots across the bridge of the Maersk Tigris,” Warren said.
After this, the master complied with the Iranian demand and proceeded into Iranian waters near Larak Island, Warren said. Larak Island is off the coast of Iran in the Persian Gulf.
Warren said the Maersk is still at sea. Initial reports are that members of the Iranian IRGCN have boarded her and there are no further updates, he added.
Navcent, having picked up the distress signal, directed the USS Farragut, an Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer, to proceed to the nearest location of the Maersk Tigris, Warren said.
Navcent also directed a Navy maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft to observe the interaction between the Maersk vessel and the IRGCN craft, he added.
The Tigris’s destination, according to a marine-traffic website, was Jebel Ali, a port town 22 miles southwest of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Under a Marshall Islands Flag
Maersk is a Danish company, but the Maersk Tigris was sailing under a Marshall Islands flag.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a sovereign nation for which the United States has full authority and responsibility for security and defense under the terms of an amended compact that entered into force in 2004.
The United States and the Marshall Islands have full diplomatic relations, according to the U.S. State Department.
Navcent is the U.S. Navy element of U.S. Central Command. Its area of responsibility includes the Red Sea, the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. Navcent consists of the U.S. Fifth Fleet and other subordinate task forces.
“Navcent is communicating with representatives of the shipping company,” Warren said. “We continue to monitor the situation.”
The Pentagon spokesman said the Strait of Hormuz is in Iranian territorial waters, which is within 12 miles of the Iranian coast.
But, he said, because the narrow strait is recognized as containing international shipping lanes, the principle of “innocent passage” is applied, so ships that abide by international rules of the sea are authorized to pass through the strait.
Warren said that there are no Americans among the 30 or so people aboard the Maersk Tigris.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)