A U.S. Coast Guard ship accompanying a guided-missile submarine and other vessels near the Strait of Hormuz fired warning shots after a group of 13 Iranian fast boats approached them in an “unsafe” manner on Monday, the Pentagon’s spokesman said.
The group of fast boats controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps came as close as 150 yards (137 meters) to the U.S. ships when a Coast Guard cutter, the Maui, fired about 30 warning shots from a .50-caliber machine gun, spokesman John Kirby told reporters. He said the Iranian vessels were behaving “very aggressively.”
As they neared the U.S. vessels, two of the 13 fast boats “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. Navy said in a statement. The Squall is a Cyclone-class patrol ship.
The Fifth Fleet said U.S. crews issued multiple warnings to the Iranian boats before firing the warning shots. The U.S. ships were accompanying the USS Georgia, a submarine refitted to attack land targets with as many as 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and also deploy up to 66 Navy SEALs. The Georgia was sailing on the surface, a rare move for a U.S. submarine on patrol in a tense region such as the Persian Gulf.
The IRGC denied Kirby’s account in a statement, accusing U.S. forces of “dangerous and unprofessional” behavior including helicopter flights, firing flares and untargeted, inappropriate shooting, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported on Tuesday.
The encounter is the latest sign of U.S.-Iran tensions in the Middle East and the second time an American ship fired at an Iranian vessel in recent weeks. Late last month, the U.S. released footage of the USS Firebolt firing at Iranian fast boats that came within about 68 yards. In early April, an Iranian boat pulled in front of another Coast Guard vessel, though no shots were fired.
“It’s unsafe, it’s unprofessional, and this kind of activity is the kind of activity that could lead to somebody getting hurt and could lead to a real miscalculation in the region,” Kirby said. “Sadly, harassment by the IRGC navy is not a new phenomenon.”
The American ships were entering the Persian Gulf when they were approached, Kirby said. The encounters come despite U.S. and Iranian negotiators taking part in indirect talks in Vienna over how to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement.