APRIL 28, 2015 — The U.S.Navy responded this morning after an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, or IRGCN, vessel fired shots across the bridge of a Marshall Islands flag containership and subsequently detained it.
Army Col. Steve Warren told members of the Pentagon press corps that at about 2:05 a.m. Eastern Time, several Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, or IRGCN, patrol vessels approached the M/V Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo vessel.
The commercial ship was in Iranian territorial waters transiting inbound, or north, in the Strait of Hormuz, between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman in the Arabian Sea. It is one of the world's major strategic choke points, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The Pentagon spokesman said the Strait of Hormuz is in Iranian territorial waters, which is within 12 miles of the Iranian coast.But, he said, because the narrow strait is recognized as containing international shipping lanes, the principle of "innocent passage" is applied, so ships that abide by international rules of the sea are authorized to pass through the strait
."The ship's master was contacted and directed to proceed further into Iranian territorial waters. He declined and one of the IRGCN craft fired shots across the bridge of the Maersk Tigris," Warren said.
After this, the master complied with the Iranian demand and proceeded into Iranian waters near Larak Island, Warren said. Larak Island is off the coast of Iran in the Persian Gulf.
This morning, Warren said the Maersk Tigris was is still at sea and that initial reports were that members of the Iranian IRGCN have boarded her.
Navcent, having picked up the distress signal, directed the USS Farragut, an Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer, to proceed to the nearest location of the Maersk Tigris, Warren said.
According to the Pentagon, Navcent also directed a Navy maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft to observe the interaction between the Maersk vessel and the IRGCN craft, he added.
The Tigris's destination, according to a marine-traffic website, was Jebel Ali, a port town 22 miles southwest of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Maersk is a Danish company, but the Maersk Tigris was sailing under a Marshall Islands flag.
"The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a sovereign nation for which the United States has full authority and responsibility for security and defense under the terms of an amended compact that entered into force in 2004," said the Pentagon. And, at this morning's U.S. State Department daily press briefing, Jeff Rathke Acting Deputy Spokesperson, said, that in addition U.S. concern for the freedom of navigation and the safety of shipping in the region "there is a security compact between the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands that addresses security and defense matters. So beyond our concern for the open international shipping lanes, we also have a particular relationship with the Republic of the Marshall Islands."
"Navcent is communicating with representatives of the shipping company," Warren said. "We continue to monitor the situation."
Warren said that there are no Americans among the 30 or so people aboard the Maersk Tigris.
Subsequent reports say the vessel is now in Bandar Abbas, Iran. This is confirmed by the vessel's marinetraffic.com AIS position.
According to the Equasis date base, the Maersk Tigris is registered to Wide Golf Ltd., which appears to be a single ship company and which gives its address as in care of the ship's manager, Rickmers Shipmanagement of Singapore. According to published reports, the actual owner of the vessel is Oaktree Capital Management.
Earlier today, Singapore based Rickmers Shipmanagement issued a statement saying:
Rickmers Shipmanagement would like to report that today at approximately 1255 hours local time its managed container vessel Maersk Tigris was approached in the Persian Gulf by Iranian Navy and forced for inspection at a rendezvous position in Iranian waters. The Iranian Navy used warning shots during its approach of Maersk Tigris.
Immediately after being attended Rickmers Shipmanagement has informed relevant international authorities.
Rickmers Shipmanagement is seriously concerned about their crew and the incident which happened to their managed ship.
The company would like to emphasize that it takes its responsibilities as an international shipping line very seriously complying with all applicable laws and regulations and ensuring that employees are aware of those laws relevant to their roles.
Rickmers Shipmanagement is liaising with the relevant international authorities, and their main priority at the moment is the wellbeing of its seafarers on board Maersk Tigris. The company continues to monitor the vessel's position at the same time seeking communications with the crew.
Meantime, Iranians appear to be being fed a somewhat different version of events. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) said that "an informed source with the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) confirmed a U.S. cargo ship navigating under the Marshall Islands flag in the Persian Gulf was detained and escorted to Bandar Abbas port.
"The source told IRNA that the move came as the U.S. vessel was subject of a legal dispute with Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization.
"Saying that there are 34 staff on the ship who are mostly Europeans, the IRGC source rejected any link between the vessel’s seizure to political or military issues."After a court ruled on detaining the ship based on the Ports and Maritme Organization's complaint, he added, IRGC seized it on the maritime authority's demand."