An Iranian warship seized and temporarily held two U.S. Navy sea drones in the Red Sea, according to an American military official, the second time this week an Iranian vessel has intercepted a U.S. water-based drone.
At about 2 p.m. Thursday local time, the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) warship in the Red Sea, far from Iranian territorial waters, picked two U.S. Saildrones out of the water. The United States says the incident occurred in international waters.
The U.S. official said that after the Iranians loaded the drones onto their ship, the U.S. responded by sending two destroyers that were already in the area to the scene. The U.S. used bridge-to-bridge communication and the Iranians responded, eventually agreeing to release the drones. They released the drones at 8 a.m. Friday, according to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.
In a statement confirming the details of the incident, the Navy said, "The vessels posed no risk to naval traffic and had been operating in the general vicinity of the Southern Red Sea for more than 200 consecutive days without incident." In addition to sending the two destroyers to the scene, the Navy also dispatched an MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter.
According to Iranian state television, the IRIN said that while “establishing the security and safety of shipping in the Red Sea and combating piracy and maritime terrorism, the Jamaran destroyer encountered several small data collection vessels that were abandoned on the international shipping route and took action in order to prevent the occurrence of an accident.”
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Monday night, a ship from Iran’s other Navy, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN), tried and failed to capture a Saildrone in the Persian Gulf, according to the Navy.
At about 11 p.m. local time, the Shahid Baziar grabbed and towed the unmanned sea vessel in an area patrolled by the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
The USS Thunderbolt patrol ship saw the Shahid Baziar towing the drone, identified itself as a U.S. ship and demanded the drone’s release at least five times, a U.S. defense official said.
The Iranians did not respond, and the Thunderbolt then sent a rigid hull inflatable boat to cut the tow line. The Fifth Fleet also 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.
Iranian state television said that the IRGC Navy accused the U.S. of “fabricating a Hollywood-style story” about Tuesday's incident.