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US Vessel Fires Warning Shots at Iranian Patrol Boats

WASHINGTON — A United States Coast Guard cutter fired 30 warning shots after 13 Iranian fast patrol boats menaced a group of American Navy ships sailing in the Strait of Hormuz, the Pentagon said on Monday.

The incident marked the third time in little more than a month that vessels from Iran and the United States have come dangerously close in or near the Persian Gulf, escalating tensions between the two nations as their negotiators have resumed talks toward renewing the 2015 nuclear deal.

In the latest incident, the Coast Guard cutter Maui fired the warning shots after the attack craft from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps “conducted unsafe and unprofessional maneuvers” while operating close to six Navy ships and one submarine sailing through the Strait into the Persian Gulf, the Pentagon spokesman, John F. Kirby, told reporters.

Two Coast Guard cutters, including the Maui, were escorting the Navy ships through the relatively narrow Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf, Pentagon officials said. The American vessels blew warning whistles, and then the Maui fired warning shots from a .50 caliber machine gun as the Iranian vessels roared within 150 yards before breaking off, American officials said.

After months of relative maritime calm between Iran and the United States, Tehran has stepped up aggressive behavior at sea, returning to a pattern that for several years was common.

On April 26, three fast-attack craft from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps sailed as close as 68 yards to a Navy coastal patrol ship and a Coast Guard patrol boat — the Firebolt and the Baranoff — as the two American vessels were patrolling international waters in the northern part of the Persian Gulf, the Navy said.

On April 2, a Revolutionary Guards Corps ship, the Harth 55, accompanied by three fast-attack vessels, harassed two Coast Guard cutters, the Wrangell and the Monomoy, as they were conducting routine security patrols in the international waters of the southern Persian Gulf, the Navy said. After about three hours of the American ships issuing warnings and conducting defensive maneuvers to avoid collisions, the Iranian vessels moved away.

That interaction was the first “unsafe and unprofessional” episode involving Iran since April 15, 2020, said Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a Fifth Fleet spokeswoman. In 2017, the Navy recorded 14 such harassing interactions with Iranian forces, compared with 35 in 2016 and 23 in 2015.

In 2016, Iranian forces captured and held overnight 10 U.S. sailors who strayed into the Islamic republic’s territorial waters.

However, such incidents had mostly stopped in 2018 and for nearly all of 2019, Commander Rebarich said. The episodes at sea have almost always involved the Revolutionary Guards, who report only to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

American military analysts said that in the two encounters in April, the Iranian warships targeted some of the smallest and most lightly armed Navy and Coast Guard ships in the region, indicating the Iranians perhaps wanted to make a statement without a high risk of getting their people killed.

Navy cruisers and destroyers, which are far larger than the ships that were harassed and carry a much deadlier complement of weapons, have special 5-inch shells — developed after the deadly attack in 2000 on the destroyer Cole in Yemen — devised to take out small fast-attack craft like those from the Iranians. But the American vessels targeted recently have no such weaponry aboard.

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Second Close Call Between Iranian and American Vessels Raises Tensions

WASHINGTON — For the second time in a month, vessels from Iran and the United States came dangerously close in the Persian Gulf on Monday night, the Navy said on Tuesday, escalating tensions between the two nations as their negotiators have resumed talks toward renewing the 2015 nuclear deal.

According to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, three fast-attack craft from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps sailed close to a Navy coastal patrol ship and a Coast Guard patrol boat as the two American vessels were patrolling international waters in the northern part of the Persian Gulf.

At about 8 p.m. local time Monday, the Iranian boats rapidly and repeatedly approached the American ships, the Firebolt and the Baranoff — at one point coming as close as 68 yards, according to a Navy statement.

The American crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and loudspeakers, but the Iranian vessels continued their close-range maneuvers, the Navy said. When the Firebolt’s crew fired warning shots, the Iranians vessels moved away “to a safe distance from the U.S. vessels,” the Navy said.

Iranian forces captured and held overnight 10 U.S. sailors who strayed into the Islamic Republic’s territorial waters.

However, such incidents had mostly stopped in 2018 and for nearly the entirety of 2019, Commander Rebarich said. The episodes at sea have almost always involved the Revolutionary Guards, which reports only to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The earlier encounter this month happened on April 2, when a Revolutionary Guards Corps ship, the Harth 55, accompanied by three fast-attack vessels, harassed two Coast Guard cutters, the Wrangell and the Monomoy, as they were conducting routine security patrols in the international waters of the southern Persian Gulf, the Navy said in a separate statement issued earlier on Tuesday. That episode was earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal.

the deadly attack in 2000 on the destroyer Cole in Yemen — that are specifically devised to take out small fast-attack craft like these from the Iranians. But the American vessels targeted this month have no such weaponry aboard.

The incident on Monday night occurred just days after a leaked audiotape offered a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes power struggles of Iranian leaders. In the recording, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the Revolutionary Guards Corps called the shots, overruling many government decisions and ignoring diplomatic advice.

In one extraordinary moment on the tape, Mr. Zarif departed from the reverential official line on Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Guards’ elite Quds Force, the foreign-facing arm of Iran’s security apparatus, who was killed by the United States in January 2020.

“In the Islamic Republic, the military field rules,” Mr. Zarif said in a three-hour conversation that was a part of an oral history project documenting the work of the current administration.

John Ismay contributed reporting.

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32 Rescued From Sinking Fishing Boat: ‘Every Moment Counts’

OTTAWA — The situation looked dire for the crew of the Atlantic Destiny. A fire first knocked out power onboard the scallop trawler and then it began taking on water. More than 130 miles away from its home port in Nova Scotia, the 144-foot-long ship was hopelessly bobbing up and down on waves 40 to 80 feet high.

But while the Atlantic Destiny ultimately sank, a joint rescue effort by Canada and the United States meant that all its 32 crew members had been rescued before it went down.

“The weather was probably some of the worst weather I have actually executed a hoist operation in,” said Cmdr. David McCown, a pilot on a United States Coast Guard helicopter that rescued 13 of the ship’s crew.

The rescue effort began when the Atlantic Destiny sent out a distress call on Tuesday because of the fire. Ships from the United States and Canadian Coast Guards were dispatched; the Royal Canadian Air Force sent two rescue helicopters and an airplane from Nova Scotia, while another pair of helicopters and a plane took off from a U.S. Coast Guard base in Cape Cod.

Cmdr. Aaron O’Brien, the lead officer of a Canadian Coast Guard ship, the Cape Roger, traveled overnight to reach the sinking trawler. He charged ahead for about 11 hours, buffeted by side winds of up to 90 miles an hour, navigating against the wind through rough seas that he would normally cross at a near walking pace. There was no time to waste.

“In a case like that, every moment counts,” Commander O’Brien said. “So we were hammer down as much as possible.”

The Canadian Air Force arrived first and completed the dangerous task of dropping two search and rescue technicians onto the sinking fishing ship. While one prepared the crew for evacuation, the other worked to slow down the ship’s intake of water.

The rescue began by lifting crew members put in a rescue basket into a helicopter, a maneuver that had to be coordinated with the huge ocean swells. Commander McCown said that the pilots and their crews used night vision goggles to keep an eye on the waves, sometimes the height of an apartment building, throughout the process.

Because the fishing ship’s crew had been able to stay onboard and out of the frigid water, Commander McCown said that they were mostly in good shape, if very shaken.

When his helicopter reached its weight limit with 13 members of the sinking ship’s crew, it immediately made the long flight back to Nova Scotia. When it landed, he estimated that there was only enough fuel left for another 40 minutes of flight.

Two other helicopters rescued 15 more.

One helicopter stayed behind, while the two search and rescue technicians from the Canadian military and four Atlantic Destiny crew members remained on the sinking ship in an effort to rescue it by pumping water out.

But early Wednesday morning, they too decided it was time to leave.

Capt. Malcolm Grieve of the Canadian Air Force began trying to retrieve the remaining six in an effort that proved tricky. When his helicopter lowered a steel cable to start the process, the cable wrapped around a railing on the ship and had to be immediately cut loose. As a result, all his crew could do was lower some rescue boats and first aid supplies and wait for the Cape Roger to arrive after its all-night journey.

It appeared around 7:30 in the morning.

The last people on board, including the captain, climbed down a rope ladder into an inflatable boat sent from the Coast Guard ship at about 8 in the morning. Two and half hours later, the Atlantic Destiny sank.

“It was a total relief off my shoulders,” Commander O’Brien said of the successful rescue. “I’m just thankful that we could help someone in distress and that we could be there really at the right place at the right time.”

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