Iran Seizes Cargo Ship in Strait of Hormuz

PHOTO: The Maersk Tigris is pictured on German Lashings website. germanlashing.de
The Maersk Tigris is pictured on German Lashing's website.

Iranian patrol vessels fired warning shots at the MV Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo vessel, as it transited through the Strait of Hormuz, the Pentagon confirmed today.

The ship has been boarded by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy as it heads deeper into Iranian waters, a Pentagon official said. The Maersk Line said in a statement that according to its latest information it is being escorted by Iranian patrol boats towards the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

There are no Americans aboard the vessel and none of the ship’s crew was injured by the warning shots fired across the ship’s bridge, according to the Pentagon, noting the U.S. Navy has dispatched a destroyer to the scene of the incident to monitor the situation from international waters. There are believed to be more than 30 mariners serving aboard the vessel.

Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said that at 9:05 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time (5 a.m. ET), the MV Maersk Tigris was approached by Iranian patrol vessels while in Iranian territorial waters during an inbound transit through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf.

The ship’s master of the MV Maersk Tigris did not comply with an Iranian order to go deeper into Iranian territorial waters, Warren said.

In response, the Iranian vessels fired warning shots in front of the ship’s bridge, Warren said. The MV Maersk Tigris’ ship’s master then complied with the order to go deeper into Iranian waters.

The MV Maersk Tigris is currently in the vicinity of Larak Island, which is in Iranian waters and has been boarded by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, Warren said.

The ship’s master sent a distress call to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, headquartered in Bahrain, which has dispatched the destroyer USS Farragut “to proceed at best speed” as close as it can to the MV Maersk Tigris while in international waters, Warren said.

"We do not know why the Iranians directed this action," said Warren, who also labeled the Iranian fire at the commercial vessel as "inappropriate."

Fifth Fleet has also directed an aircraft to maintain overhead surveillance and has issued a notice to mariners about the incident and assistance the U.S. Navy could provide if needed.

In a statement, Maersk Line said the Maersk Tigris was in international waters "when it was approached and seized by Iranian patrol boats."

The company said it does not own the MV Maersk Tigris but charters it from Rickmers Shipmanagement Singapore Pte. Ltd. and the crew of more than 30 aboard are not employed by Maersk.

The vessel was en route from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to Jebel Ali, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the company said.

"According to our information the vessel is currently being escorted towards Bandar Abbas in Iran by Iranian patrol boats" said Maersk in a statement. "Our paramount concern is the safety and well-being of the crew. We are working in close dialogue with Rickmers Shipmanagement to obtain information about the seizure and explore options to help resolve this situation."

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a former United States territory that under an existing security compact gives the United States the responsibility and authority for the island nation’s security and defense matters.

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters Tuesday that authority includes “matters related to vessels flying the Marhshallese flag.”

However, Rathke said the Republic of the Marshall Islands has not requested specific U.S. assistance in the incident.

ABC News' Justin Fishel contributed to this report.

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