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U.S. Navy ship fires warning shots after Iranian boats come close

It was the second tense encounter in less than a month in the Persian Gulf between Iranian and U.S. vessels.

WASHINGTON — A U.S. Navy ship fired warning shots near three Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps boats in the Persian Gulf after the vessels approached at close range and ignored repeated appeals to pull back, the Navy said Tuesday.

It was the second tense encounter at sea in less than a month, after about a year of no such incidents, and it coincided with high-stakes negotiations between Iran and world powers over its nuclear program.

The three armed Iranian speed boats “rapidly approached” a U.S. Navy patrol coastal ship, the Firebolt, and a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, the Baranoff, on Monday evening in international waters at about 8 p.m. local time, the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet in Bahrain said in a statement.

The Iranian vessels operated at “an unnecessarily close range with unknown intent” and at one point came within 68 yards of both U.S. ships, the statement said.

The crews of the two U.S. ships “issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and loud-hailer devices,” but the Revolutionary Guard vessels “continued their close range maneuvers,” the Fifth Fleet said.

“The crew of Firebolt then fired warning shots, and the IRGCN (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps navy) vessels moved away to a safe distance from the U.S. vessels,” it said.

The three Iranian boats “failed to exercise due regard for the safety of other vessels as required under international law as they came into close proximity to U.S. [ships],” the statement said.

Iran’s U.N. mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Iranian boats’ actions “increased the risk of miscalculation and/or collision,” the Fifth Fleet said, accusing the vessels of failing to abide by international maritime regulations on preventing collisions.

“U.S. naval forces continue to remain vigilant and are trained to act in a professional manner, while our commanding officers retain the inherent right to act in self-defense,” the statement said.

The Navy earlier acknowledged a separate, similar incident on April 2. In that case, a group of Iranian vessels from the country's Revolutionary Guard Corps harassed two U.S. Coast Guard ships over three hours in the Persian Gulf, repeatedly crossing in front of the bows of the American ships at close range.