US Navy ships will start accompanying American-flagged commercial vessels passing through the Strait of Hormuz after Iran’s seizure of a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel on April 28th, a US defence official said on Thursday, according to Reuters.
The official said the measure was expected to be in force for a limited time and was measured, adding ships would not be “escorting” the American vessels but only keeping them within eyeshot. Navy vessels already in the area would be tasked with the job, the official added.
The decision comes after two recent incidents involving the Iranian Navy and foreign-flagged vessels in the Strait.
On April 28, Iranian naval patrols opened fire on the Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Islands-flagged container ship travelling through an internationally recognised shipping lane during a voyage between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The ship issued a distress call, which a nearby US destroyer, the USS Farragut, responded to.
The ship was boarded and then taken to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. Iranian officials claimed that the ship was taken because of an Iranian court case involving a years-old debt owed by the vessel’s ownership.
And on April 24th, Iranian ships intercepted a US-flagged ship in the Strait.
The Strait of Hormuz, which is only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, is the world’s busiest oil chokepoint. Every day, 17 million barrels of oil, representing 30% of the world’s seaborne oil trade passes through the Strait, according to the US Department of Energy.
Iran has challenged open navigation on the Strait of Hormuz before, and a top Iranian naval official actually threatened to close the Strait in December of 2011.
The US hopes that escorts can diffuse any future tensions, at a time when the US and Iran are in the process of negotiating a landmark agreement that would limit the scope of Tehran’s nuclear program.
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