Merchant vessels at risk in the Persian Gulf

In under three weeks, two commercial vessels have been fired upon by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in the Persian Gulf.

On Thursday 14 May, a Singapore flagged tanker was sailing 15 nautical miles from the Iranian coast-line on her way to Fujairah Port, when five Iranian patrol boats were reported to have fired shots across the bow of the vessel.

The Master was told to stop his vessel, however he ignored the orders and changed her course, before the Iranian vessels attempted to intercept the tanker. This prompted a radio call for help from the tanker to which the UAE responded; dispatching coast guard vessels to the scene and subsequently causing the Iranian vessels to depart from the area.

Iran has since stated that the reason for the attempted seizure of the vessel is an ongoing legal dispute regarding an incident involving the tanker damaging an Iranian oil platform after hitting it in March.

Nevertheless, this latest aggressive move by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard does follow a failed attempt by Iran to send a convoy of ships that were suspected to be carrying weapons to Houthi rebels involved in the conflict in Yemen, where Iran and Saudi Arabia have taken opposing sides. The convoy turned back on itself when the US Navy deployed 12 warships to the area, which has caused analysts to suggest that Iran is now targeting these commercial vessels in an act of retaliation.

In late April, a Marshall Island flagged cargo ship came under similar fire from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and was forced to make her way to the Iranian Island of Qeshm, near Bandar Abbas where the vessel and crew were held under armed guard for over a week; for reasons relating to an outstanding debt of the charterers, according to Iran.

In response to the initial incident involving the cargo ship, the US began accompanying all US and UK vessels though the Strait of Hormuz – but on release of the cargo ship, this escort operation stopped. Now taking into consideration yesterday’s seizure attempt, experts have asked if the escort operation was called off to soon – to which Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said ‘We’re always in a position to re-evaluate in the future.’