The Department of Defense announced on Monday that 13 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy fast-attack boats harassed a formation of six U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz, prompting a U.S. ship to fire 30 warning shots.
According to a statement by the Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet, “Two of the 13 IRGCN vessels broke away from the larger group, transited to the opposite side of the U.S. formation and approached Maui and Squall from behind at a high rate of speed (in excess of 32 knots) with their weapons uncovered and manned.”
The U.S. ships reportedly issued multiple bridge-to-bridge verbal warnings, five acoustic device warnings, and five short blasts of the ship’s horn, the internationally recognized danger signal. As the two Iranian speed boats continued to charge towards the U.S. ships, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Maui fired the warning shots.
DOD spokesman John Kirby told reporters at a press briefing that the group of 13 IRGC Navy fast-attack boats “approached the U.S. formation at high speed, closing in as close as 150 yards.” US Coast Guard Cutter Maui fired a total of 30 warning shots from a .50 caliber machine gun in two volleys — one volley as the IRGC boats were 300 yards away, and then a second volley as they were 150 yards away.
After the second volley, the IRGC boats “broke contact,” Kirby said.
Kirby described the IRGC’s action as “unsafe and unprofessional maneuvers [that] failed to exercise due regard for the safety of U.S. forces as required under international law.”
The formation of six U.S. ships included the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61), patrol coastal ships USS Thunderbolt (PC 12), USS Hurricane (PC 3) and USS Squall (PC 7) and USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332) and USCGC Maui (WPB 1304), who were escorting the guided-missile submarine USS Georgia (SSGN 729).
The Monday incident is the second time U.S. warships have been forced to fire warning shots at Iranian speedboats in as many weeks. On April 26, another pair of U.S. ships, the USS Firebolt (PC 10) and USCGC Baranoff (WPB 1318), were forced to fire warning shots at Iranian speedboats that were harassing them in the dark. The Iranian speedboats, designated as fast inshore attack craft (FIACs), acted in an unsafe manner, coming within 68 yards of the Navy and Coast Guard patrol ships.
On April 2, prior to the April 26 interaction between U.S. and Iranian vessels, three more Iranian armed speedboats and a larger 180-foot twin-hulled support ship swarmed around a pair of U.S. Coast Guard cutters. The 180-foot Iranian catamaran-like vessel, known as the Harth 55, even sailed across the bow of one of the Coast Guard vessels, coming within 70 feet of the U.S. vessel, risking a collision.
The Monday incident between the Iranian and U.S. vessels also comes days after one of the U.S. vessels involved, the USS Monterey, seized thousands of Chinese and Russian weapons from a ship sailing the Arabian Sea. The weapons shipment included dozens of Russian anti-tank missiles, as well as thousands of AK-style rifles and hundreds of other rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
Investigators believe the seized weapons may have been part of an Iranian weapons shipment to the Iran-backed Houthi rebel movement in Yemen, which has been fighting for control over the country against an Arab-backed coalition for years.