Dubai – Iranian patrol vessels fired warning shots across the bridge of a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo vessel that was traversing the Strait of Hormuz in Iranian territorial waters, a Pentagon official said Tuesday.
Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said the cargo ship’s master had initially refused an Iranian order to move further into Iranian waters, but after the warning shots were fired the MV Maersk Tigris complied.
The cargo ship, which had more than 30 people aboard, was directed to waters near Larak Island, he said.
“It is inappropriate” for the Iranians to have fired warning shots across the ship’s bridge in those circumstances, Warren said, adding that it was too early to know whether the Iranian intervention amounted to a violation of the freedom of navigation through a waterway heavily used by international shipping.
Warren said the cargo ship has been boarded by Iranians, but no one has been injured and no Americans are involved. The Iranian vessels, numbering five or six, were with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, he said.
Warren said the cargo ship issued a distress call and U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, based in the area, sent a U.S. destroyer, the USS Farragut, and a Navy maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft to the area of the incident to monitor the situation.
The incident began at about 4:05 a.m. U.S. Eastern Daylight Time, Warren said.
The spokesman said the U.S. government has “certain obligations” to defend the interests of the Marshall Islands, but he was uncertain how those obligations apply in this situation.
Maersk, based in Copenhagen, said the ship was chartered to Rickmers Ship Management, based in Hamburg, Germany. Maersk said it had no information about the crew or the cargo.