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US Navy Fires Warning Shots at Iranian Fast Attack Craft

The patrol coastal ship USS Firebolt.

The patrol coastal ship USS Firebolt (PC 10) transits the Strait of Hormuz, Jan. 11, 2021. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Indra Beaufort)

The U.S. Navy fired warning shots Monday in the direction of armed speed boats from the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as they harassed two U.S. patrol boats in international waters in the north Arabian Gulf, according to Navy 5th Fleet officials.

The vessels approached the Navy coastal patrol boat Firebolt and the Coast Guard Island-class patrol boat Baranoff around 8 p.m. at high rates of speed, coming into “unnecessarily close range with unknown intent,” according to a 5th Fleet news release.

Navy officials said the U.S. crews issued multiple warnings to the vessels but the boats — known as fast inshore attack craft — continued their “close range maneuvers,” pulling their vessels to within 68 yards of both boats.

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The Firebolt crew then fired warning shots, which prompted the Iranians to “move away to a safe distance.”

Three Iranianfast inshore attack craft approach the USS Firebolt.
Three Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy fast inshore attack craft approach the patrol coastal ship USS Firebolt (PC 10) in the international waters of the North Arabian Gulf, April 26. (U.S. Navy)

The Navy said the Iranian forces’ actions increased risk of collision and were outside the “rules of the road” regarding maritime custom.

“The Firebolt and Baranoff crews operated with distinct professionalism, superior seamanship and dispassionate yet firm resolve,” Navy officials wrote in a release. “As professional mariners, we expect the IRGCN to operate with due regard for the safety of all vessels as required by international law.”

The announcement follows news reported Monday by The Wall Street Journal that three fast-attack boats and a larger support vessel harassed two U.S. Coast Guard vessels for three hours on April 2.

During that incident, the Iranian support ship crossed repeatedly in front of Coast Guard patrol boats Monomoy and Wrangell, at one point coming within 70 yards of the Wrangell and forcing the cutter to take evasive maneuvers to avoid a collision.

The last reported confrontation between Iranian fast attack craft and U.S. vessels was in April 2020, when 11 Iranian fast attack craft harassed U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships conducting operations in Iranian waters.

In that incident, a boat came within 30 feet of the Coast Guard Island-class patrol boat Maui and within 50 yards of the expeditionary mobile base Lewis B. Puller.

Following the event, then-President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that he had “instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”

The latest incidents of harassment come as the U.S. is planning to hold indirect talks on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Trump withdrew from in 2018.

According to the Navy, Firebolt and Baranoff were conducting routine maritime security operations in international waters during the time of the incident.

“The U.S. is not an aggressor; our naval forces remain postured in a non-provocative manner that exemplifies professionalism, incentivizes adherence to international law and customs, and persuades others to emulate our actions. Our forces are trained, however, to conduct effective defensive measures when necessary,” wrote 5th Fleet Public Affairs.

— Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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