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Dual Confrontation off Oman's Coast: U.S. Navy Thwarts Iranian Seizures of Commercial Tankers

Updated: Jul 7, 2023

On July 5, in two separate incidents near the coast of Oman, the U.S. Navy foiled attempts by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) to seize commercial tankers. Both of these incidents took place in international waters. The first involved an IRGCN vessel approaching the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker TRF Moss in the Gulf of Oman at 1 a.m. local time. The Iranian vessel retreated when the U.S. Navy's guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul (DDG 74) arrived on the scene. Surveillance assets such as the MQ-9 Reaper and P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft were also deployed by the U.S. Navy.

A few hours later, a distress call from the Bahamian-flagged oil tanker Richmond Voyager was received by the U.S. Navy. While over 20 miles off the coast of Muscat, Oman, in international waters, another Iranian naval vessel had come within one mile of the commercial tanker and demanded it stop. The McFaul then sped toward the Richmond Voyager as the merchant tanker continued its transit. Before McFaul's arrival, the Iranian vessel fired multiple bursts from small arms and crew-served weapons. Although the ship was not seriously damaged, several rounds hit the hull near the crew's living quarters. The Iranian navy vessel left once the McFaul arrived.

An official statement from Iran reported that a court order had been secured to seize the Richmond Voyager tanker following a collision with an Iranian vessel in the Gulf of Oman.

Iran claimed the Richmond Voyager did not halt its journey following the incident. This event was further detailed in an announcement by the Hormozgan Province's Maritime Search and Rescue Center. According to this statement, the Richmond Voyager collided with an Iranian vessel carrying seven crew members, injured five individuals, and induced flooding on the Iranian ship.

These incidents occurred amid growing security concerns in the Persian Gulf, a crucial transit point for over a third of the world's seaborne crude oil. In May, the U.S. Navy increased the rotation of ships and aircraft patrolling the Strait of Hormuz alongside partners in response to an uptick in Iranian merchant vessel seizures. Iran has harassed, attacked, or seized nearly 20 internationally flagged merchant vessels since 2021, presenting a significant threat to regional maritime security and the global economy.

UAE was frustrated by the lack of a decisive American response to IRGCN's seizure of tankers on April 27 and May 3. One tanker was carrying a shipment of Kuwaiti crude oil to Houston for Chevron, while the second was transiting from the Emirati port cities of Dubai to Fujairah. The U.S. Navy has created a special task force that uses sailing surveillance drones to expand its ability to respond to threats. Generally, the United States maintains a stance of forbearance, perceived by regional states as a sign of weakness, given the escalating Iranian risk to maritime navigation in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman and the increased provocation against foreign naval forces patrolling these waters.

IRGCN commander, Alireza Tangsiri, spoke (July 5) in a defiant manner after the incident and revealed new details regarding the seizing of the British oil tanker (2019), saying The capture of the British tanker encompasses undisclosed aspects yet to be explored " As the American vessel neared our territorial waters during this operation, we issued a stern warning that if they approached further, they would become the target of our missile strikes. Following this warning, the American ship promptly retreated".

He stated that Iran can effectively asymmetrically deal with foreign fleets, despite their numerical and technological superiority “We are victorious in this unequal battle against our enemies, and we will not give up the benefits that belong to the great and martyr-loving nation of Iran… the enemies are operating in the Persian Gulf, but our young people strongly warn them that they have no right to enter this waterway, and they lower their heads and change the route.”

IRGCN Commander : Enemies have no right to enter this waterway

He said, "Our oil and gas are extracted from the sea, and if there are no (Iranian) ships and missiles, we will not have a livelihood.” Tangsiri emphasized the strategic importance of the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, Siri, Abu Mousa, and the Nazeaat Region in the Persian Gulf, saying that Greater Tunb Island, located at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, is like an "unsinkable aircraft carrier from which the plane can take off and take control of the entire area." With their critical positioning, these disputed Islands with the UAE offer Iran a strategic springboard advantage in controlling and patrolling the Strait of Hormuz and the surrounding sea areas. Iran's focus on these areas can be seen as part of its broader national security strategy to ensure its security, protect its economic interests, and maintain its influence in the region through projecting power and harassing foreign fleets operating in the area and attacking international maritime traffic when it serves its national security interests.

Tangsiri reiterated the belief that Iran and its neighbors should bear the responsibility of ensuring the security of the Persian Gulf and fostering regional alliances. He reiterated Iran's resistance to external forces in the region.

The IRGCN missions are: enforcing Iran’s territorial water claims and protecting economic interests, including its offshore energy infrastructure, and s countering illegal smuggling; monitoring and tracking the movements of foreign and regional fleets and merchant ships operating in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf and training Iran's proxies in maritime operations. It accomplishes this with coastal radars, surface-to-sea missiles, small speed boat patrols, and attack vessels (some of them unmanned) equipped with a variety of weapons systems (missiles, mines, and Special Forces) and a variety of drones (for reconnaissance and attack missions) and Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV). The IRGCN also uses smaller, faster vessels in its mine-laying strategy.

The IRGCN has demonstrated its ability to harass and interdict maritime traffic by boarding or firing. IRGCN, with sole responsibility for the Persian Gulf, embraced asymmetric warfare doctrine to ensure Iran's national security in the Persian Gulf against regional neighbors and foreign presence.


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