-- A U.S. Navy ship in the Persian Gulf fired three warning shots on Wednesday at an Iranian small craft that had earlier come as close as 200 yards to another U.S. Navy vessel, and the Iranian boat sped away after the warning shots were fired, U.S. officials said today.
The incident was one of three encounters in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday involving U.S. Navy vessels and small boats from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy that the Pentagon is calling "unsafe and unprofessional."
They follow another close encounter between the two navies on Tuesday when four Iranian craft "harassed" the destroyer USS Nitze near the Strait of Hormuz, according to U.S. officials.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Navy coastal patrol boat USS Squall fired three warning shots at an Iranian boat that had come within 200 yards of the USS Tempest, according to Commander William Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. U.S. officials say that at the time, the Squall and Tempest were participating in an exercise with a Kuwaiti patrol boat in the northern Persian Gulf.
The three vessels had been traveling in formation when they were approached by a Naser-class Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy water craft at high speed, according to U.S. officials. The crew of the USS Tempest fired flares to warn off the approaching vessel and was able to make brief radio contact, but the Iranian vessel continued its approach.
The Iranian boat approached the Tempest head-on coming as close as 200 yards, forcing the American ship to alter its course to avoid a collision, U.S. officials said.
The Iranian boat sped away after the USS Squall fired the three warning shots into the waters ahead of the speeding boat to warn it off. Earlier the two American ships had an earlier encounter with three other Iranian small craft that crossed in front of the bow three times, coming as close as 600 yards, U.S. officials said. Each time the Iranian vessels ignored warning flares and whistles used by the crew of the Tempest for them to alter their course.
In a later incident Wednesday, the destroyer USS Stout received what Urban called "an unsafe intercept" from the same Iranian vehicle that had received the warning shots from the USS Squall. The Iranian vessel crossed the bow of the Stout three times. Urban said the Stout had to maneuver away each time to avoid a collision with the Iranian boat.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters today that the reason for the warning shots was because the American sailors had "taken steps already to try and deescalate this situation, appropriate steps, including flares, trying to, again, warn the Iranian craft away. And so they felt the need to take an additional step to try and deescalate the situation.”
Cook said the "onus here is on the Iranians to conduct themselves in a safe and professional manner like navies all over the world do."
"There is no need for this kind of, if you will, unprofessional behavior. It does not serve any purpose," Cook added.
The latest incidents occurred a day after four Iranian craft "harassed" the destroyer USS Nitze in approaches that one official said "came way too close for comfort."
The crew of the Nitze fired flares and sounded the ship's horn to warn the small craft, but they continued to approach the ship from the side.
In video of the encounter recorded aboard the Nitze showed the warning flares fired from the ship as well as the audio warnings from the ship's horn.