The United States Navy (USN) has stated that Iran attempted to seize two oil tanker ships near the strategic Strait of Hormuz on Wednesday morning, July 5, 2023, firing upon one of the tanker ships.
It is reported that in both cases, Iranian naval vessels retreated after the US Navy deployed a missile destroyer to the scene. Both commercial vessels continued their journeys.
“The Iranian Navy did indeed attempt to capture commercial tanker ships that were lawfully transiting in international waters,” said Rear Admiral Tim Hawkins, spokesperson for the US Fifth Fleet. “The US Navy promptly responded and prevented the seizure.”
He stated that the shots fired at the second ship did not cause any casualties or significant damage. There has been no direct comment from Iran regarding the incident.
The US Navy stated that an Iranian naval ship approached the TRF Moss, a Marshall Islands-flagged ship, in the Gulf of Oman at around 1:00 a.m. The US deployed the USS McFaul, a missile destroyer, as well as the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper drone and P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft.
Three hours later, the US Navy received a distress call from the Richmond Voyager, an oil tanker flying the Bahamian flag, more than 20 nautical miles off the coast of Muscat, the capital of Oman. The US Navy stated that another Iranian naval vessel had approached within one nautical mile (1.6 kilometers) of the tanker and ordered it to stop.
“The same US destroyer advanced towards the tanker at maximum speed,” said the Navy in a statement. “Prior to McFaul’s arrival at the scene, Iranian personnel fired several long-range shots from both light and crew-served weapons,” the statement added.
The US Navy stated that Iran has seized at least five commercial vessels in the past two years and disrupted more than a dozen other ships. Many of these incidents have occurred within and around the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20 percent of all crude oil passes.
In April, masked Iranian naval commandos carried out an attack using helicopters to seize a US-owned oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, footage of which was aired on Iranian state TV.
Iran claimed that the tanker was seized after colliding with another Iranian vessel but did not provide evidence. In the past, Iran has seized commercial vessels for use as bargaining chips with the West.
Tensions have been escalating since the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement with major world powers and reinstated crippling sanctions.
Iran has responded by increasing its nuclear activities, which it claims are purely for peaceful purposes, and by providing armed unmanned aerial vehicles to Russia for its war against Ukraine.