April 23rd 2020

Eleven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps vessels conducted repeated dangerous approaches of six Coast Guard and US Navy ships, including USNS PULLER, on April 15 in the North Arabian Gulf.

The licensed deck officers and purser aboard PULLER, a Military Sealift Command Expeditionary Sea Base, are represented by the MM&P Federal Employees Membership Group.

The CIVMAR-crewed vessel was sailing in support of US Fifth Fleet as part of maritime security operations.

US Fifth Fleet Public Affairs reported that the Iranian boats repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the US vessels at extremely close range and high speeds, including multiple crossings of the PULLER with a 50-yard closest point of approach.

The American crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio, five short blasts from the ships’ horns and long-range acoustic noisemaker devices, but received no response from the Iranian boats.

After about an hour, the Iranian vessels responded to the bridge-to-bridge radio queries and then maneuvered away from the US ships, opening distance between them.

US forces—Navy, Coast Guard, Marines and Army—have been conducting joint interoperability operations in support of maritime security in the US 5th Fleet area of operations since late March.

“The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ dangerous and provocative actions increased the risk of miscalculation and collision, were not in accordance with the internationally recognized Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea ‘rules of the road’ or internationally recognized maritime customs, and were not in accordance with the obligation under international law to act with due regard for the safety of other vessels in the area,” US Fifth Fleet said in a statement.

The incident occurred shortly after Iranian forces boarded a Hong Kong-flagged product tanker, the ST TAIPEI, at an anchorage off Fujairah. The boarding team allegedly ordered the tanker to divert to Iranian waters for an inspection, then allowed the vessel to depart.

IRGC naval forces have a long history of interactions with the US Navy in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility, particularly in the Strait of Hormuz.

In previous encounters, American forces have occasionally fired flares and warning shots in order to discourage close-in Iranian maneuvers.