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Iranian ships approach US vessel carrying CENTCOM chief

The amphibious transport dock USS New Orleans transits the Gulf of Aden, in May 2016. The New Orleans was carrying Army Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, through the Strait of Hormuz on Monday, July 11, 2016, when Iran sent five military ships to monitor the U.S. vessel.

CHELSEA D. DAILY/U.S. NAVY

By CHRIS CHURCH | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 12, 2016

MANAMA, Bahrain — Ships from Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps approached a U.S. warship hosting a top U.S. general while it transited the Strait of Hormuz on Monday, U.S. Navy officials said.

Gen. Joseph Votel, who oversees U.S. Central Command, was on board the USS New Orleans as five Iranian vessels — four fast inland attack craft and one larger fast attack craft — approached the New Orleans and guided-missile destroyer USS Stout.

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command characterized the interaction as safe, routine and professional and said that was true of most interactions. But the incident indicated how quickly naval vessels have to decide whether foreign vessels are a threat.

“As you’ve seen in a relatively compressed space here, there is a great opportunity for miscalculations,” Votel was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency. “We don’t always have a lot of time to deal with those interactions. I think what we’ve probably learned today is that it’s measured in minutes.”

U.S. and coalition personnel are trained to avoid contributing to miscalculation but are ready to defend themselves if necessary, NAVCENT Spokesman Lt. Ian McConnaughey said.

In this case, the Iranian vessels left the area without incident.

Last year, there were more than 300 interactions between maritime forces from Iran and the U.S. Navy, and only 10 percent of those were characterized as unsafe, nonroutine or unprofessional, McConnaughey said. So far this year, with 250 interactions, that percentage has been about the same.

In January, two U.S. Riverine command boats were captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps when they strayed close to Iran’s Farsi Island. Ten sailors were detained overnight.

Unsafe, nonroutine or unprofessional interactions are characterized as maritime forces crossing the bow of a U.S. ship or closing the distance on a vessel at a high rate of speed, McConnaughey said.

“We always welcome the professionalism in the maritime domain,” he said, “and that’s how we conduct ourselves.”

U.S. Naval vessels routinely transit the Strait of Hormuz while entering and exiting the Persian Gulf for maritime security operations and for strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Along with the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb, it’s one of three critical choke points for maritime commerce in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility.

church.christopher@stripes.com
 

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