The British and US navies have rescued a merchant ship in the Strait of Hormuz after it was “harassed” by Iranian attack vessels, in the latest flare-up on a key shipping route in the Gulf.
US officials said three Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) “attack ships” sailed close to the merchant vessel, which has not been fully identified, on Sunday afternoon.
HMS Lancaster from the Royal Navy and the USS McFaul from the US Navy were deployed to the area to assist, and the US Navy later issued black-and-white images showing three small ships sailing near the merchant vessel.
Western officials have accused Iran of ramping up risky and threatening manoeuvres on shipping routes in the Gulf in an attempt to disrupt international trade. Around a fifth of global oil trade passes through the Strait of Hormuz.
“The US Navy’s guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul and the Royal Navy’s frigate HMS Lancaster responded to the incident, with the Lancaster launching a helicopter,” a US Navy spokesman said.
“The situation de-escalated approximately an hour later when the merchant vessel confirmed the fast-attack craft departed the scene. The merchant ship continued transiting the Strait of Hormuz without further incident.”
According to the Associated Press, the ship that was threatened appeared to be a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel called the Venture which online shipping trackers said was sailing erratically in the area.
It was not immediately clear if the ship had any links to Israel, which is locked in an escalating “shadow war” with Iran in which the two countries have been attacking each other’s ships and other infrastructure such as petrol stations. Israel is also suspected to have launched a series of precision strikes on Iran’s nuclear programme, which it regards as an existential threat.
The incident was also confirmed by the Royal Navy’s UK Maritime Trade Operation. “UKMTO has been made aware of a MV being approached by three small craft, carrying armed personnel in an area 27nm miles north of Mina Saqr,” it said, without giving further details.
Iran was also blamed in 2021 for a drone attack on the Mercer Street vessel, which killed a British sailor and a Romanian captain. Tehran denied responsibility for the attack at the time.