Three U.S. Navy fast patrol craft joined the destroyer Farragut Wednesday in the Straits of Hormuz to counter Iranian threats to safe passage through the waterway following Iran's moves against a Marshall Islands-flagged container ship.
Iranian speedboats on Tuesday fired warning shots across the bridge of the MV Maersk Tigris, which was registered in the Marshall Islands. Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard later boarded the ship, claiming it had strayed into Iranian territorial waters.
The Maersk Tigris and its crew of 24 are anchored between Iran's Larak Island and the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, Pentagon officials said.
The destroyer Farragut, which entered the Straits at "best speed" Tuesday following the takeover of the Maersk Tigris, was joined by the Cyclone-class patrol craft Typhoon, Firebolt and Thunderbolt, said Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren.
"What they're doing is keeping an eye on things," Warren said of the Navy presence in the Straits, and staying prepared if a response is needed to ensure safe passage through the heavily-travelled waterway between the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.
Warren said the takeover of the Maersk Tigris came after another incident of harassment last week by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards speedboats. On April 24, four of the Iranian craft came astern of the MV Maersk Kensington in the Persian Gulf. The Iranian craft followed the Maersk Kensington closely for 15-20 minutes before backing off, Warren said.
The master of the Maersk Kensington later reported the incident to the Navy at U.S. Central Command.
"It's difficult to know why the Iranians are acting this way," Warren said.
In a statement, Maersk said "We are in ongoing contact with Rickmers Shipmanagement and are pleased to learn that the crew (are) safe and under the circumstances in good spirits."
Maersk stressed that the Maersk Tigris was in international waters when the Iranian speedboats approached.
"We are continuing our efforts to obtain more information about the Iranian authorities' seizure -- in international waters - of Maersk Tigris," the statement said. "We are not able at this point to establish or confirm the reason behind the seizure."
The 65,000-ton Maersk Tigris, flagged in the Marshall Islands, is managed and crewed by Rickmers Shipmanagement but on hire to Maersk Line, the shipping unit of Maersk. Rickmers said there were 24 crew, mostly from eastern Europe and Asia, aboard the ship.
Under a Compact of Free Association with the Marshall Islands, the U.S. was responsible for the defense of the Republic of the Marshall Islands "to include matters relating to vessels flying the Marshallese flag," the Defense Department said in a statement.
"We are in discussions now with the Marshall Islands" on the next course of action following the takeover of the ship," Warren said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com