Reuters: Five Iranian boats made aggressive maneuvers and showed hostile intent against three U.S. Navy ships at the weekend in the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route in the Gulf, the Pentagon said on Monday.
By Andrew Gray
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Five Iranian boats made aggressive maneuvers and showed hostile intent against three U.S. Navy ships at the weekend in the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route in the Gulf, the Pentagon said on Monday.
The Pentagon said the incident was serious. It described the Iranian actions as “careless, reckless and potentially hostile” and said Tehran should provide an explanation.
In Tehran, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman had no immediate comment on U.S. accounts of the incident.
The incident was the latest sign of tension between Washington and Tehran, at odds over a range of issues from Iran’s nuclear program to U.S. allegations of Iranian support for terrorism.
U.S. President George W. Bush is due to travel to the Middle East this week on a trip he has said is partly aimed at countering Iranian influence.
“We urge the Iranians to refrain from such provocative actions that could lead to a dangerous incident in the future,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
Oil prices briefly rose on the news about the confrontation as dealers weighed the threat to oil shipments along the key shipping route. Crude futures jumped 49 cents to $98.40 a barrel before slipping back.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the three U.S. ships had been in international waters passing through the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday when they were approached by five fast boats, at least some of which were visibly armed.
“This is a serious incident,” Whitman said. “Clearly this is something that deserves an explanation.”
The boats were identified as Iranian and “made some aggressive maneuvers against our vessels and indicated some hostile intent,” Whitman said.
“This required our vessels to issue warnings and conduct some evasive maneuvering,” Whitman told reporters. “The U.S. Navy vessels were prepared to take appropriate actions… but there was no engagement of the vessels.”
Other Pentagon officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Iranians made threats by radio and a U.S. captain was in the process of ordering sailors to open fire when the Iranian boats moved away.
The incident took place about 11:00 p.m. EST Saturday night, the officials said.
According to the officials, the radio transmission from one of the Iranian ships said: “I am coming at you. You will explode in a couple of minutes.”
The officials said it was not unusual for Iranian boats to get close to U.S. ships in the strait but the radio transmission was unusual.
The officials said the Iranian vessels also dropped small white boxes into the water. It was not clear what the boxes contained.
One official said the move may have been an attempt to ascertain what tactics the U.S. ships would use if objects were dropped into the strait.
The Iranian boats were believed to belong to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the officials said.
In October, the United States designated the Revolutionary Guard Corps a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and its elite Qods force a supporter of terrorism.
In March, Iran seized 15 British sailors and marines in the Gulf and accused them of trespassing in Iranian territory while they inspected a merchant vessel. London maintained the British personnel were in Iraqi waters.
The British personnel were held for almost two weeks before being freed in what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said was a “gift” to the British people.
(Writing by Andrew Gray and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott and Frances Kerry)