On Monday, armed speed boats belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) harrassed a U.S. Navy coastal patrol ship and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter operating in international waters in the north Persian Gulf.
According to a U.S. Navy statement, the Iranian speedboats, designated as fast inshore attack craft (FIACs), acted in an unsafe manner, coming within 68 yards of the boats and the Navy ship USS Firebolt (PC 10) had to fire warning shots to compel the Iranian speedboats to move away a safe distance. The Navy shared video of the nighttime interaction.
In the video, a few ships’ lights can be seen on the water before a crack can be heard and smaller light appears to streak horizontally past one of the ship’s lights and bounce off the water. It is unclear from the video if the streak of light is that of a tracer round bouncing off the water. Navy Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet told American Military News she could not immediately confirm that the video showed a tracer round being fired.
Tracer rounds are typically used to trace the trajectory of rounds being fired.
The Navy said that throughout the incident Iranian speedboats ignored warnings from Firebolt and the Coast Guard’s USCGC Baranoff (WPB 1318). The U.S. ships issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and loud-hailer devices.
“Throughout the interaction, U.S. forces proactively communicated with the IRGCN vessels and executed pre-planned responses to reduce the risk of miscalculation, avoid a collision, and to de-escalate the situation,” the Navy press release states. “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 (COLREGS) ‘rules of the road’ or internationally recognized maritime customs. 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.”
The incident came shortly after the Navy reported a similar April 2 incident in which three more Iranian armed speedboats and a larger 180-foot twin-hulled support ship swarmed around a pair of U.S. Coast Guard cutters. Pictures and videos from that incident showed the 180-foot catamaran-like Iranian vessel cutting across the bow of one of the U.S. Coast Guard cutters.
In a statement to American Military News, Rebarich said the Navy does not see the two recent interactions with Iranian vessels as a new trend. Similar incidents have happened in the past, including one in April of last year in which 11 Iranian speedboats swarmed around six U.S. warships.
“The interaction on April 2 consisted of an IRGCN Harth 55 (catamaran patrol craft) conducting aggressive, unsafe, harassing maneuvers against our ships in the south Arabian Gulf,” Rebarich said. “In contrast, the April 26 interaction occurred in the north Arabian Gulf and involved three IRGCN FIAC (armed speedboats) that failed to exercise due regard for the safety of other vessels as required under international law and acted in a manner that made their intent unclear.”
This is the first time a U.S. Navy ship has fired warning shots at Iranian vessels in nearly four years. In July of 2017, the USS Firebolt’s sister ship, the USS Thunderbolt (PC 12) fired warning shots at Iranian vessels that came within 150 yards of the U.S. ship.