Navy Officers Recount Iranian Ship Confrontation

Ships' commanders tell ABC News they believed radio message threat was real.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 12:17 AM

Jan. 13, 2008 — -- What began as a typical encounter for U.S. war ships quickly turned into a tense confrontation, with sailors ready at their weapons awaiting word from ther commanders to fire on the threatening swarm of Iranian boats around them, two Navy officers involved in the incident told ABC News today.

Capt. David Adler of the cruiser USS Port Royal and Cmdr. Jeffrey James of the destroyer USS Hopper told ABC News about the confrontation during an exclusive tour of their ships.

They said the incident on Jan. 6 started out routinely, as the three ships entered the strait, but when five Iranian boats began acting provocatively Adler ordered his sailors to man their weapons as he tracked the Iranian speed boats.

"We progressed on, we saw these ... small boats coming in at us," Adler said. "So instead of going by us, which we would have [expected] with smugglers, they were now going down the sides of the ships. So that indicates, you know, some more proactive maneuvering."

As the Iranian boats surrounded the U.S. ships, the Americans received a radio transmission in heavily accented English.

"I am coming to you. You will explode in a few minutes," the voice on the transmission said, and with the small Iranian boats surrounding their ships, the U.S. commanders had to take the apparent threat seriously.

"When I heard it, it just raised my awareness level. That the threat level seemed to perhaps increase when you combine it with the maneuvering of the vessels and the fact they would not respond to our warnings and interrogations," James told ABC News.

After first implying that the transmission came from the Iranian vessels, the Navy later said the communication could have come from the shore. Officials now say it is not clear where the transmission came from. There has even been speculation that it was a hoax and had nothing to do with the Iranians.

But Adler and James, who heard the transmission in the heat of the confrontation, said they disagreed.