A U.S. Navy patrol boat fired a warning shot at an Iranian military ship Tuesday as it made an alarmingly fast and close approach in the Persian Gulf, marking the latest aggressive encounter between the two adversaries.
The unidentified Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps vessel got within 200 yards of the USS Thunderbolt before the American patrol boat fired the warning shot, quickly ending the encounter. A Pentagon official described it as an isolated incident and said one person was hurt.
It is not clear where in the Persian Gulf the incident occurred or how many Americans were aboard the Thunderbolt. The vessel, based in Norfolk, can carry a crew of 27 and is used primarily to patrol coastlines and provide surveillance for interdiction operations.
U.S. officials also have not disclosed what type of weapons the crew fired. The ship is heavily armed, carrying chain guns, automatic grenade launchers and .50-caliber machine guns.
At least three other U.S. vessels were nearby at the time.
Iranian military officials characterized the incident as a U.S. provocation and took credit for having “neutralized” the threat.
In a report published last winter, the Office of Naval Intelligence indicates that vessels operated by the Revolutionary Guard Corps routinely monitor U.S. and allied warships in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, a busy waterway that links to the Gulf of Oman. The majority of these encounters are “safe and routine,” it says, but “unprofessional or aggressive” run-ins are becoming more frequent.
“Such operations increase the likelihood for a mishap at sea, potentially leading to strategic tension and insecurity in the region,” the report says.
The Pentagon documented 35 such interactions with the Iranians last year, up from to 23 in 2015, according to the Associated Press. This year, it has acknowledged at least five.
Last month, for instance, Iranian forces harassed a formation of three American ships — the amphibious assault ship Bataan, the guided-missile destroyer Cole and the dry cargo ship Washington Chambers — shining floodlights on them from a distance of 800 yards and pointing a laser at an airborne U.S. helicopter.
Twice in March, the USNS Invincible, which is outfitted with sonar and radar equipment, had close encounters of its own. In one incident, an Iranian frigate moved within 150 yards. In the other, Revolutionary Guard fast boats cut in front of the U.S. ship, forcing it to rapidly change course to avoid a collision.