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Video shows Iran trying to capture a U.S. drone

The U.S. Navy responded with a rigid-hulled boat and a helicopter, and the Iranian ship cut the tow line.

An Iranian ship tried and failed Monday night to capture a U.S. Navy sea-based drone in the Persian Gulf, according to the Navy.

At about 11 p.m. local time, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) support ship Shahid Baziar grabbed and towed the unmanned sea vessel in an area patrolled by the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which is responsible for the portions of the Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Iran.

The USS Thunderbolt patrol ship saw the Shahid Baziar towing the sea drone, known as a Saildrone Explorer. The Thunderbolt identified itself as a U.S. ship and demanded release of the Saildrone at least five times, but the Iranians never responded, a U.S. defense official said.

U.S. Navy Foils Iranian Attempt to Capture Unmanned Vessel in Arabian Gulf
A screenshot from a video shows support ship Shahid Baziar, left, from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, unlawfully towing a Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessel in international waters of the Arabian Gulf on Aug. 30.U.S. Navy

The Thunderbolt then sent a rigid-hulled inflatable boat to cut the tow line. The Thunderbolt had also notified the 5th Fleet of the incident, and it launched a MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter from Bahrain.

After about four hours, the Iranian ship cut the tow line and let the U.S. drone go. The official said the U.S. believes the Iranians cut the tow line in response to the U.S. ships and helicopter.

The Saildrone has sensors, radars and cameras, but it does not store classified or sensitive information that the Iranians could have exploited.

In a statement, Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command, said: “The professionalism and competence of the crew of the USS Thunderbolt prevented Iran from this illegal action. This incident once again demonstrates Iran’s continued destabilizing, illegal, and unprofessional activity in the Middle East.”

Iranian representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In 2017, the Thunderbolt fired warning shots at an IRGCN vessel after it approached within 150 yards. The ship stopped its approach.