The United States Navy sent a destroyer toward the Persian Gulf on Tuesday after Iran took control of a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship it accused of trespassing in territorial waters, American military officials said.
The ship, the Maersk Tigris, with 24 crew members, was intercepted by Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps patrol boats on Tuesday morning while traveling through the Strait of Hormuz, a Pentagon official said. The Iranian forces fired shots across the ship's bow, the official said, after its captain declined an order by the forces to divert farther into Iranian waters.
The official said the ship was traveling through “an internationally recognized maritime route." After being fired on, it issued a distress call, prompting the United States Navy to direct a destroyer, the Farragut, to the area and to put aircraft on standby to monitor the situation.
The episode threatened fragile negotiations over reining in Iran's nuclear ambitions, but American officials were quick to play down its significance, correcting initial reports out of
Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said the ship was traveling through Iranian territorial waters that are, by international agreement, open to foreign ships making an innocent passage. He said it was “inappropriate" for
An American military official said Tuesday that the Farragut was about
A Maersk spokesman said that the ship was a charter vessel, not a Maersk-crewed ship. A spokesman for the charter company, Rickmers Shipmanagement, said that the crew members were all Eastern European or Asian, and that the ship had been headed to a port near
The Rickmers spokesman, Cor Radings, said the captain had said that the ship did not stray into Iranian waters outside the international maritime route. “She was stopped by the Iranians and instructed to go to a rendezvous point in Iranian waters," he said. “Since then we've lost contact with the ship."
The Maersk spokesman, Michael Storgaard, said in an email that he could not recall another episode in which a Maersk vessel had been detained by the Iranian authorities. “Seizure in open sea by authorities?" he said. “I cannot exclude it has happened before, but would believe we have to go back" to World War II.
Maersk said Tuesday evening that the ship was being escorted toward
The episode raised tensions between the
But officials must still work out the final details of the agreement, and another naval confrontation would make selling a deal even harder.
“To maintain political support for a deal, President Obama has to remain vigilant about Iranian behavior in the region," said Cliff Kupchan, the chairman of the Eurasia Group, a consulting firm that assesses political risk around the world. He said that he found
“The Iranian elite is extremely concerned about saving face and gaining leverage," Mr. Kupchan said. “This was probably an attempt to level the playing field."