The US Department of Defense has revealed plans to bolster its presence in the US Central Command’s area of responsibility after two alleged attempts by the Iranian Navy to seize commercial tankers.
“One attempt included an Iranian navy ship firing upon the merchant vessel,” Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said. “In light of this continued threat and in coordination with our partners and allies, the department is increasing our presence and ability to monitor the strait and surrounding waters.”
The deployment includes an additional Navy destroyer, the USS Thomas Hudner, as well as an undisclosed number of F-35 and F-16 fighter jets.
On July 5, 2023, the US Naval Forces Central Command reported that the Iranian Navy attempted to illegally seize two merchant vessels in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman. Both incidents occurred in international waters.
In the Gulf of Oman, an Iranian naval vessel approached the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker TRF Moss. The situation diffused when the US Navy destroyer USS McFaul arrived, causing the Iranian vessel to depart. Surveillance assets, including MQ-9 Reaper and P-8 Poseidon aircraft, were also deployed by the US Navy.
Shortly after, the US Navy received a distress call from the Bahamian-flagged oil tanker Richmond Voyager, which was approached by another Iranian naval vessel while transiting international waters. Iranian personnel fired multiple bursts at the tanker, but no casualties or significant damage were reported. Once again, the Iranian vessel left when the USS McFaul arrived on the scene.
A video of the interaction was published by the US Navy.
Following the incident, Iranian authorities argued that the Richmond Voyager had previously collided with an Iranian vessel injuring five people and that the Iranian Navy had a court order to seize it, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. No comments were made regarding the TRF Moss.
The Pentagon report further highlighted that Iran has either attacked or seized approximately 20 merchant vessels since 2021.
On June 4, 2023, a joint UK Royal Navy-US Navy operation thwarted an attack of Iranian Revolutionary Guard fast-boats on a merchant vessel. The mission saw the deployment of a US P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and a British helicopter.
“We call upon Iran to immediately cease these destabilizing actions that threaten the free flow of commerce through this strategic waterway, of which the world depends on for more than 1/5 of the world’s oil supply,” Singh said.