US Navy fires warning shots in new tense encounter with Iran
USS Firebolt fired the warning shots after three Revolutionary Guard vessels came within 62 metres of it
An American warship fired warning shots when vessels of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard came too close to a patrol in the Arabian Gulf on Monday, the US Navy said on Wednesday. It was the first such shooting in nearly four years.
The Navy released black-and-white footage of the encounter in international waters of the northern reaches of the Arabian Gulf near Kuwait, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In it, lights can be seen in the distance and what appears to be a single gunshot can be heard, with a tracer round racing across the top of the water.
Iran did not immediately acknowledge the incident.
The Navy said the Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Firebolt fired the warning shots after three fast-attack Guard vessels came within 62 metres of it and the US Coast Guard patrol boat USCGC Baranoff.
“The US crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and loud-hailer devices, but the (Guard) vessels continued their close range manoeuvers,” said Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the Mideast-based 5th Fleet. “The crew of Firebolt then fired warning shots, and the (Guard) vessels moved away to a safe distance from the US vessels.”
She called on the Guard to “operate with due regard for the safety of all vessels as required by international law.
“US naval forces continue to remain vigilant and are trained to act in a professional manner, while our commanding officers retain the inherent right to act in self-defence,” she said.
The last time a Navy vessel fired warning shots in the Arabian Gulf in an incident involving Iran was in July 2017, when the USS Thunderbolt, a sister ship to the Firebolt, fired to warn off a Guard vessel. Regulations issued last year give Navy commanders the authority to take “lawful defensive measures” against vessels in the Mideast that come within 100 metres of their warships.
While 100 metres may seem far to someone standing at a distance, it’s incredibly close for large warships that have difficulty in turning quickly, like aircraft carriers. Even smaller vessels can collide with each other at sea, risking the ships.
The incident on Monday marked the second time the Navy accused the Guard of operating in an “unsafe and unprofessional” manner this month alone after tense encounters between the forces had dropped in recent years.
Footage released on Tuesday by the Navy showed a ship commanded by the Guard cut in front of the USCGC Monomoy, causing the Coast Guard vessel to come to an abrupt stop with its engine smoking on April 2.
The Guard also did the same with another Coast Guard vessel, the USCGC Wrangell, Rebarich said.
In 2017, the Navy recorded 14 instances of what it describes as “unsafe and or unprofessional” interactions with Iranians forces. It recorded 35 in 2016, and 23 in 2015.
The incidents at sea almost always involve the Revolutionary Guard, which reports only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Typically, they involve Iranian speedboats armed with deck-mounted machine guns and rocket launchers test-firing weapons or shadowing American aircraft carriers passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
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