— -- Iranian fast boats have once again harassed an American ship in the Persian Gulf, forcing a U.S. Navy patrol boat to take evasive maneuvers to avoid a collision with one of the Iranian boats.
American officials have labeled the Iranian actions in Sunday's encounter involving the USS Firebolt as "unsafe and unprofessional." It is the latest in a string of such incidents over the past two weeks in which small craft from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) have harassed U.S. Navy ships in the Gulf.
"The USS Firebolt, a patrol craft, was operating in international waters in the central Arabian Gulf, was approached by seven fast-attack craft from Iran," Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters today.
"Three of them maneuvered close to the ship, shadowing her course from a range of about 500 yards," he said. "They eventually broke off. One of the remaining boats turned towards the USS Firebolt and came to a stop directly in front of the ship. This caused the Firebolt to have to maneuver to avoid a collision. They came within about 100 yards of each other.
"During the interaction, the Firebolt attempted multiple radio communications with the Iranians" that went unheeded, said Davis. "This is another example of an unsafe and unprofessional interaction we've had with the IRGCN in the Gulf."
He added, "This is clearly a pattern, and it's one we're not happy about, and we'd like to see this sort of behavior stop."
A defense official said the Iranian fast boats emerged from behind a line of fishing boats called dhows. Three of the fast boats went around the dhows and approached the Firebolt, conducting multiple maneuvers around it for about eight minutes, coming within 500 yards of the small patrol craft.
Meanwhile, another group of four Iranian boats made a line toward the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower, which was south of the Firebolt.
The Firebolt was redirected toward the carrier to block those boats from approaching the Eisenhower. In the end, the carrier was too fast for the fast boats, and they broke off — but not before one of them broke formation and turned toward the Firebolt, leading to the evasive maneuvers.
Another defense official said that the Iranian actions created "a dangerous, harassing situation that could have led to further escalation, including additional defensive measures by Firebolt."
Two weeks ago, a different U.S. Navy patrol craft was forced to fire three warning shots at a fast-approaching Iranian ship. Just days before, the destroyer USS Nitze reported an unsafe and unprofessional encounter with multiple Iranian craft that came as close as 300 yards from the ship despite repeated warnings and communications from the Nitze.