Eleven Iranian ships repeatedly came close to U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships in “dangerous and harassing approaches” in the Gulf on Wednesday, according to the U.S. military.
The vessels from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) approached six U.S. ships while they were in the middle of “joint integration operations with U.S. Army AH-64E Apache attack helicopters in the international waters of the North Arabian Gulf,” Naval Forces Central Command said in a statement.
“The IRGCN vessels repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the U.S. vessels at extremely close range and high speeds,” and came within 10 yards of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Maui.
“The U.S. crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio, five short blasts from the ships' horns and long range acoustic noise maker devices, but received no response from the IRGCN,” the statement noted.
The Iranian ships left after about an hour.
“The IRGCN's dangerous and provocative actions increased the risk of miscalculation and collision, [and] were not in accordance with the internationally recognized Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea,” the statement added.
The interaction is the first tense incident in months between Washington and Iran following an escalation at the start of the year when a rocket attack the Trump administration blamed on an Iran-backed militia in Iraq killed a U.S. contractor.
The U.S. military responded with strikes on militia targets. Supporters of the militia then stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and Trump responded by ordering a drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani while he was at the Baghdad airport.
Iran retaliated with a Jan. 8 rocket attack on Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops, inflicting traumatic brain injuries on more than 100 U.S. service members.
Tensions between the two sides also nearly boiled over last year when Iran in June shot down a U.S. surveillance drone that it claimed was flying over Iranian airspace, a move that nearly prompted a retaliatory strike from the United States.