Iranian Ships Swarmed U.S. Coast Guard Vessels in Persian Gulf, Navy Says

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WASHINGTON—A group of boats from Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps harassed two U.S. Coast Guard ships earlier this month in the Persian Gulf, Navy officials said, the first such incident in a year.

The incident occurred April 2, just as the U.S. and Iran announced they would conduct negotiations toward renewing the 2015 multilateral nuclear accord. Those talks began earlier this month in Vienna. The episode hasn’t been previously disclosed.

U.S. Navy officials confirmed that three fast attack crafts and one ship known as Harth 55, a 180-foot, twin-hulled support vessel, swarmed the two Coast Guard ships while they were patrolling international waters in the southern portion of the Persian Gulf.

The larger vessel repeatedly crossed in front of the bows of the two U.S. vessels, the Monomoy and the Wrangell, coming as close as 70 yards away, officials said. That forced the Wrangell to have to make defensive maneuvers to avoid collision, Navy officials said.

The American crews issued multiple warnings over a three-hour period as the Iranian ships continued to buzz them. The crew of the Harth 55 responded to the bridge-to-bridge radio queries but the ship continued the unsafe maneuvers, said

Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich,

a spokeswoman for the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which oversees the region. It was unclear what the Iranian crews communicated by radio.

There was no immediate response from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Navy.

While Iran says it isn’t trying to build nuclear weapons, a look at its key facilities suggests it could develop the technology to make them. WSJ breaks down Tehran’s capabilities as it hits new milestones in uranium enrichment and limits access to inspectors. Photo illustration: George Downs

“After approximately three hours of the U.S. issuing warnings and conducting defensive maneuvers, the IRGCN vessels maneuvered away from the U.S. ships and opened distance between them,” Cmdr. Rebarich said in a statement.

The incident on April 2 was considered “unsafe and unprofessional,” a term used by the military to describe situations in which, typically, another country’s ships or aircraft fly dangerously close. This incident was different from most other ones: In the past, only Iranian fast attack boats were used to swarm American warships, not one as large as the Harth 55.

The Iranians had routinely conducted such maneuvers using small fast boats for at least two years, then in 2018 stopped conducting such operations and U.S. officials were at a loss to explain why.

Since then, they have resumed occasional harassment. The last incident in which an Iranian boat conducted an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver against an American ship was in April 2020, Cmdr. Rebarich said.

American officials are typically unsure to what degree such incidents are directed by Tehran or are the result of rogue ship commanders working for the IRGC and taking their own initiative.

Over the weekend, a leaked tape surfaced in which Iran’s foreign minister,

Mohammad Javad Zarif,

was heard explaining that the IRGC often sabotaged Tehran’s efforts, taking matters into their own hands over the concerns of the country’s foreign ministry or government.

Such actions “increase the risk of miscalculation and collision,” officials said, and aren’t in accordance with the rules of the internationally-recognized conventions, the rules of road for seamanship, officials said.

“U.S. naval forces continue to remain vigilant and are trained to act in a professional manner, while our commanding officers retain the inherent right to act in self-defense,” Cmdr. Rebarich said.

The Coast Guard ships are part of a Coast Guard unit that operates outside of the U.S. and are assigned to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command’s Task Force 55.

Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com

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www.wsj.com2021-04-26 18:30:00

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