US Vessel Fires Warning Shots at Iranian Navy for Second Time in Less Than a Month

May 11, 2021James R. Webb
Navy Iran Coast Guard

210510-N-N0146-1005 STRAIT OF HORMUZ (May 10, 2021) Two Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) fast in-shore attack craft (FIAC), a type of speedboat armed with machine guns, conducted unsafe and unprofessional maneuvers while operating in close proximity to USCGC Maui (WPB 1304) as it transits the Strait of Hormuz with other U.S. naval vessels, May 10. U.S. forces exercised lawful defensive measure after the IRGCN vessels ignored repeated verbal and acoustic warning and closed toward Maui at a high speed and close distance with weapons uncovered and manned. (U.S. Navy photo)

For the second time in less than a month, a US vessel fired warning shots at Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps watercraft. During the incident Monday, the US Coast Guard cutter Maui fired 30 .50-caliber rounds in two separate warnings directed at Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps navy vessels.

“Harassment by the IRGC Navy is not a new phenomenon,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Monday. “It is something that all our commanding officers and crews of our vessels are trained … for when serving in the Central Command area of responsibility, particularly in and around the Gulf.”

Iran Coast Guard Warning
Two Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps navy fast inshore attack craft (FIAC), which are a type of speedboat armed with machine guns, operate near US naval vessels transiting the Strait of Hormuz on Monday, May 10, 2021. US Navy photo/released.

At the time of the incident, six ships — the US Navy guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey; patrol coastal ships USS Thunderbolt, USS Hurricane, and USS Squall; and Coast Guard patrol boats US Coast Guard cutter Wrangell and US Coast Guard cutter Maui — were all escorting the guided-missile submarine USS Georgia through the Strait of Hormuz when they were approached by 13 Iranian fast inshore attack craft, according to a press release from the US Navy.

“This group of fast attack boats approached the U.S. formation at high speed, closing in as close as 150 yards,” Kirby said.

After initially approaching the US ships, two of the 13 Iranian vessels broke away from the larger group, moving to the opposite side of the American formation. The two vessels then approached the Maui and Squall from behind at speeds above 32 knots, while the remaining 11 Iranian vessels maintained a position on the opposite side of the US ships.

Iran Coast Guard Warning
The guided-missile submarine USS Georgia transits the Strait of Hormuz with the guided-missile cruisers USS Port Royal and USS Philippine Sea, Dec. 21, 2020. The Philippine Sea is not pictured. Photo by NAVCENT public affairs/released.

For their initial response, the US crews issued multiple warnings to the Iranian vessels. These included bridge-to-bridge verbal warnings and five warnings using “acoustic devices,” followed by the use of the ship’s horn, which is a signal of danger recognized under international law.

However, this did not deter the two Iranian vessels. Ignoring the Navy’s warnings, the vessels continued to close on the Coast Guard ships. Once the two Iranian vessels reached 300 yards of the Maui, the Maui’s crew fired an initial burst from a deck-mounted .50-caliber machine gun. Undeterred, the Iranian vessels continued to close until the Maui fired an additional burst. 

“After the second round of warning shots, the 13 fast-attack craft from the IRGCN broke contact,” Kirby told reporters Monday.

According to the Navy, the two Iranian vessels “maneuvered in an unsafe and unprofessional manner and failed to exercise due regard for the safety of U.S. forces as required under international law.”

Iran Warning Navy
Three Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps navy fast inshore attack craft approach the US Coast Guard patrol boat USCGC Baranof and patrol coastal ship USS Firebolt while the US vessels conduct routine maritime security patrols in the international waters of the northern Persian Gulf, April 26, 2020. Photo by US Navy/released.

The IRGCN behaved similarly on April 26, resulting in the USS Firebolt also firing warning shots, Kirby said. On that day, three Iranian navy fast inshore attack craft approached US Navy vessels using tactics similar to those employed Monday. US ships on April 26 went through the same escalation of force before opening fire. As with the incident Monday, once the US ship fired warning shots, the Iranian vessels broke contact.

The Navy Times reported that, in the April 26 encounter, Iranian navy vessels closed within 68 yards of US Navy ships. Additionally, it marked the first time a US Navy vessel had fired warning shots at Iranian vessels since July 2017.

“This kind of activity is the kind of activity that could lead to somebody getting hurt, and could lead to a real miscalculation in the region, and that doesn’t serve anybody’s interests,” Kirby said.

Read Next: Russian Warships ‘Shadow’ US Coast Guard Cutter in Black Sea

James R. Webb
James R. Webb

James Webb served as a US Marine infantryman from 2005 to 2010, completing a combat tour in Iraq. He’s worked as a freelance writer and photojournalist covering US troops in Afghanistan, and Webb spent more than two years in the US Senate as a military legislative assistant and as the personal representative of a member on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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