The Pentagon confirmed that the Iranian navy fired warning shots at then boarded a Marshall Islands-flagged freighter with 24 crew members in the Strait of Hormuz.
Reuters reported Tuesday that the Maersk Tigris was passing through the strait, just miles from the Iranian coast, when Iranian patrol boats fired across its bow, and then boarded the vessel at 4:05 AM ET.
The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Farragut responded to a distress call from the 65,000-ton container ship, and is monitoring the situation from international waters.
The freighter is now reportedly headed to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. Iran claims the entire Strait of Hormuz to be its territorial waters. About thirty-five percent of the world’s oil trade passes through the strait, at the southern end of the Persian Gulf, which Iran has in the past threatened to block over sanctions imposed on the country for its nuclear program.
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Pentagon spokesman U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren confirmed that the ship was intercepted and ordered deeper into Iranian waters, calling the decision “inappropriate,” Reuters reported.
“At first appearance it does seem to be provocative behavior,” Warren told a Pentagon news briefing, adding “but again we don’t have all the facts yet.”
Warren said the vessel initially ignored warnings from the Iranian navy but complied after warning shots were fired.
None of the 24 crew members is American. It was initially reported that the ship was U.S.-flagged, but the Marshall Islands is an independent country. The island chain was a U.S. territory from World War II until 1979, and English remains one of its official languages.
The initial inaccurate reports of the vessel’s flag led to a brief surge in crude oil prices.
According to RT, the Iranian Fars news agency reported that the vessel was seized under court order at the request of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization.
The boarding occurred as Iran continues negotiations with the “P5+1” powers — the five members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany — which seek to curb its nuclear aspirations, in return for lifting sanctions against it.
Secretary of State John Kerry told a gathering on nuclear disarmament at the U.N. that a nuclear deal with Iran is “closer than ever,” after a private meeting with Iran’s foreign minister, RT reported.