The US Navy has reported that one of its patrol ships in the northern Persian Gulf fired warning shots on Monday night, in response to harassment in international waters by three Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy fast inshore attack craft.
Cdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet said that the USS Firebolt (PC 10) and U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat USCGC Baranoff (WPB 1318) were operating together on routine maritime security operations, when the three armed speed boats rapidly approached them on the night of 26 April. In response to the IRGCN vessels’ approach to “an unnecessarily close range with unknown intent”, the crews of the US vessels issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and loud-hailer devices, but the boats continued their maneuvers, coming within 68 yards (or 62 meters) of the US vessels. The crew of USS Firebolt then fired warning shots, after which the three boats withdrew to a safe distance from the American vessels.
The Navy states that throughout the encounter, “U.S. forces proactively communicated with the IRGCN vessels and executed pre-planned responses to reduce the risk of miscalculation, avoid a collision, and to de-escalate the situation”, saying that the actions of the boats that were “not in accordance” with internationally recognized maritime customs risked causing a miscalculation or collision between the vessels involved. Additionally, the three boats did not perform their obligation under international law to act with due regard for the safety of other vessels in the area with the multiple close passes.
The Navy’s official press statement came shortly after another statement on a separate incident on 2 April. In the earlier incident, the IRGCN’s Harth 55 support catamaran and three fast inshore attack craft approached the USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332) and USCGC Monomoy (WPB 1326) in international waters in the Arabian Gulf. The Harth 55 repeatedly crossed both Wrangell and Monomoy‘s bows, with a closest point of approach of 70 yards. Despite multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and five short blasts from the US ships’ horns, the Harth 55 continued its maneuvers despite acknowledging the radio transmissions, only withdrawing alongside the three IRGCN boats after three hours of American warnings and defensive maneuvers.
The Baranoff, Wrangell and Monomoy are all assigned to Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA), the largest U.S. Coast Guard unit outside the United States. Patrol Forces Southwest Asia operates under Task Force 55, which Firebolt is assigned to.
The last major incident of “unsafe and unprofessional” maneuvers by the IRGCN occured in April 2020, when eleven IRGCN armed speed boats harassed a formation of Navy and Coast Guard ships in the international waters of the North Arabian Gulf. That incident came after a pause in such harassment that started in 2018, after two years of frequent harassment. No reasons are known for either the harassment, the pause, or the subsequent resumption, although the latest incidents do follow claims by American and Iranian officials last week that progress had been made in negotiations for a US return to the JCPOA.