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Iranian gunboats shot at a Singapore-flagged tanker on Thursday as it was passing through the Strait of Hormuz, U.S. officials told NBC News.

Five gunboats, believed to be from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, ordered the tanker Alpine Eternity to halt, the officials said. When the crew refused, the gunboats fired across the bow, the officials said.

When the tanker still refused and sped up instead, the gunboats shot directly at the stern in an apparent attempt to disable the propellers, the officials said. When that failed, the Iranians asked for help from United Arab Emirates warships in the area.

The Emirati ships approached, and the Revolutionary Guard gunboats turned back toward Iran, the officials said. Reuters reported that the tanker docked in an Emirati port and that the crew was safe.

It was not clear why the Iranians might have ordered it to halt. U.S. officials said no American warships were involved. The Strait of Hormuz, off the coast of Iran, connects the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.

In April, Iranian patrol boats seized a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship and held it for a week and a half. Iran claimed that the seizure was tied to a years-old debt owed by the shipping company Maersk. Iran released the ship.

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— Jim Miklaszewski