So far, nothing terribly unusual. The IRGCN, assigned to patrol the Gulf, routinely sends boats to shadow — some call it “harass” — vessels of other nationalities as they transit the strait. Just three days ago, CNN reported, four IRGCN boats surrounded the U.S.-flagged Maersk Kensington in the Strait of Hormuz and followed it closely for some time. The U.S. Fifth Fleet subsequently issued a notice to mariners.What happened next to the MV Maersk Tigris, however, was quite out of the ordinary.
“The master was contacted and directed to proceed further into Iranian territorial waters,” said Warren. “He declined and one of the IRGCN craft fired shots across the bridge of the Maersk Tigris. The master complied with the Iranian demand and proceeded into Iranian waters in the vicinity of Larak Island.”
William Watson, a maritime consultant based in Washington, D.C., called the situation “very strange and peculiar.”
Iran, which claims the entire strait as its territorial waters, might legally board a vessel if it deviated substantially toward the Iranian coast, Watson said. But vessels moving normally through the strait have the right of innocent passage, a right routinely and firmly asserted by U.S. warships, among thousands of other ships.
Via its Fars News Agency, the Iranian government said, “The ship is a trade vessel and has been seized by the Iranian navy at the request of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization…The ship was seized after a relevant court order was issued for its confiscation.” The article said the IPMO had monetary differences with the ship owner.
Watson found this mystifying. If someone has a financial claim against a vessel’s owners, the claimant can “arrest” the vessel, or hold it until the dispute is resolved. But he added that in his decades of watching the world’s maritime trade, he’d never heard of such a thing done on the high seas. Arrests happen in port or at anchor, he said.
It’s unclear what the Navy might do from here. The U.S. can act forcefully to protect ships under U.S. flag, and generally must lay off when a vessel is sailing under some other country’s banner. The Maersk Tigris is a bit in the middle; it flies the flag of the Marshall Islands, which in the wake of World War II placed itself under the military protection of the United States.
The incident comes just days after the U.S. Navy dispatched an aircraft carrier and escort to ward off Iranian ships headed for the civil-war-wracked country of Yemen, and amid tense and ongoing negotiations surrounding the framework nuclear deal between Iran and other nations. It is also part of a long history of naval confrontations between the U.S. and Iranian forces; most dramatically, the daylong naval battle in 1988 in which the U.S. retaliated for the mining of the USS Samuel B. Roberts by sinking two Iranian warships and damaging other assets.
Full article: Here’s Why Iran’s Seizure of a Cargo Ship Is So Odd, and Disturbing (Defense One)