The U.S. Navy is maintaining a stepped-up military presence in the Straits of Hormuz following recent tensions with Iran in the region -- a situation which led the U.S. to formally accompany ships through the waterway.
"We have increased our level of presence to keep those sea lanes open and safe," Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, spokesman for the Navy's 5th Fleet, told Military.com.
The U.S. Navy's mission to accompany vessels traveling through the Strait of Hormuz -- an operation which just recently ended -- came after Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats harassed and threated a U.S.-flagged merchant ship in the Strait of Hormuz, Stephens added.
"The U.S.-flagged Maersk Kensington felt threatened by Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats which circled it as it was transiting the straits," Stephens said.
The Navy's move to accompany U.S. and United Kingdom-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz involved use of a wide range of service surface assets, officials said.
"We used U.S. Navy surface combatants including destroyers and coastal patrol ships. They were supported by maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft including P-3 surveillance planes and unmanned aircraft systems," Stephens added.
Around the same time as the incident with the Kensington, a Marshall Islands-flagged commercial ship, the Maersk Tigris, was detained and subsequently released by Iranian authorities in the Straits. The Tigris was diverted by Iranian ships and held for several days, increasing U.S. concern about Iranian activity in the vicinity.
Stephens added that there have been no incidents in recent days despite the fact that U.S. Navy ships routinely come close to Iranian vessels.
"We're maintaining a presence in the area. The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow waterway. Nearly anytime you transit you will see Iranian vessels," he added.
Overall, the U.S. Navy currently maintains a strong presence in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility, a region which includes U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIS over Iraq and Syria as well as the ongoing conflict in Yemen.
The USS Roosevelt aircraft carrier is currently in the Arabian Gulf supporting ongoing air attacks against ISIS.
There are 10 coastal patrol ships permanently based in Bahrain, the headquarters of the 5th fleet. In addition, the Navy maintains an amphibious ready group and a carrier strike group in the region, Stephens said.
"We're always evaluating our force posture. Now, we are simply maintaining a robust presence in the area," Stephens said.
The stepped up presence in the region includes additional U.S. Navy assets such as mine countermeasure ship and an amphibious ready group in Bab-el-Mandeb, the strait between Yemen and the Horn of Africa, Stephens said. \
-- Kris Osborn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org