The Maersk Tigris container ship issued a distress call Tuesday morning after an Iranian Navy ship fired shots across its bridge and Iranian personnel boarded the commercial vessel, a Pentagon spokesman said.
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 (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, one of the world’s major strategic choke points.
“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.
Warren said the Maersk is still at sea. Initial reports are that members of the Iranian IRGCN have boarded her and there are no further updates, he added. Around 30 people are reported to be aboard the Maersk Tigris.
Navcent, a U.S. Navy element of U.S. Central Command, 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.
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.
“Navcent is communicating with representatives of the shipping company (Danish Maersk),” Warren said. “We continue to monitor the situation.”
Singapore-based Rickmers Shipmanagement, operator of the vessel, said it was 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,” the company said in a statement.
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.