A ship contracted by the US military fired warning shots towards two Iranian boats, American defence officials said today.
The Westward Venture, a cargo vessel chartered by the US department of defence, was travelling north in international waters in the central Gulf at around 8am local time yesterday when the incident took place, the US navy said.
“They were able to avoid a serious incident by following the procedures that we use,” said Commander Lydia Robertson, a spokeswoman for the US navy’s Bahrain-based fifth fleet.
The ship was approached by two unidentified small boats and its crew issued “standard queries” to the vessels by radio but did not receive a response, she said. The ship then fired a flare. The boats continued to approach the cargo ship and its security team fired “a few bursts” of machine gun and rifle warning shots, Robertson said.
“The small boats left the area a short time later,” she added.
However, Tehran played down the incident, saying there was no confrontation.
A US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the boats were believed to be Iranian. Shortly after the incident, the ship received a radio query from a ship identifying itself as an Iranian coast guard vessel, Robertson said.
“It is not clear if this was one of the small boats or a separate boat,” she said.
The US said Iranian boats threatened its warships on January 6, along a vital route for crude oil shipments.
The incident coincided with a sharp warning to Iran over its alleged support for Iraqi militias by the Pentagon. Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, accused Tehran of boosting its support for Iraqi militias and said Washington could resort to military means to force Iran to stop.