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Shots Fired as Iranian Navy Approaches Crude Oil Tanker Near Oman

Iran approaches tankers
Iran is reported to have approached two tankers underway in the area around the Strait of Hormuz today (file photo)

Published Jul 5, 2023 12:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

Iran approached two commercial tankers underway in the area around the Strait of Hormuz and fired at one of the vessels in an attempt to stop a laden crude oil tanker according to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. Security services are reporting the incident with both the U.S. Navy and the UK’s Maritime Trade Operations monitoring operation confirming the details.

“The Iranian navy did make attempts to seize commercial tankers lawfully transiting international waters,” Cmdr. Tim Hawkins, spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet told reporters. “The U.S. Navy responded immediately and prevented those seizures.”

 

US Navy release image showing the approach and the ricochet of the gun fire (US 5th Fleet)

 

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) issued an alert saying it was aware of a “suspicious approach,” on a tanker approximately 28 nm North East of Muscat. They reported that shots were fired, but the vessel and crew were safe. They later reported that the action was over and changed its classification to an “incident.”

The U.S. 5th Fleet provided additional details reporting that the Richmond Voyager (319,398 dwt) flagged in the Bahamas and operated by Chevron issued a distress call around 4 a.m. local time on July 5. The crude oil tanker’s AIS shows that it had departed Ras Tannoura in Saudi Arabia and is due in Singapore on July 14. The U.S. said it was moving toward the Arabian Sea at the time of the approach.

 

 

An Iranian navy vessel was within one mile of the Richmond Voyager hailing the tanker to stop. Security consultant Ambrey told Reuters that the vessel increased speed and alerted course at which time the shots were fired. The U.S. released pictures showing bullet holes near the crew accommodation area but said no one was injured.

The U.S. Navy’s guided missile destroyer McFaul which was on patrol responded closing distance with the tanker at maximum speed. The Iranians, the U.S. Navy said, used small arms and crew-served weapons firing multiple long bursts before the Americans arrived on the scene. When the McFaul arrived, the U.S. reports the Iranian naval vessel withdrew.

 

Bullet hole in the superstructure of the tanker (US 5th Fleet)

 

Three hours earlier, the U.S. said that another Iranian navy vessel approached the Marshall Islands-flagged chemical tanker TRF Moss (37,596 dwt) also in the Gulf of Oman. That vessel shows it was in the area awaiting orders after having departed Saudi Arabia on July 3. The McFaul also responded to this incident and the U.S. Navy deployed surveillance assets, including MQ-9 Reaper and P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

This would be the second incident in which Iranians approached a vessel operated by Chevron although it is unclear if they are targeting the specific company. In April, Iran seized the tanker Advantage Sweet, which was operating under charter to Chevron. Iran accused the tanker of having hit fishing boats and not stopping. 

The U.S. Navy reported that Iran seized a second tanker around the same time while Iranian media also reported a third vessel was seized in a legal dispute. Also, the U.S. and British forces recently reported that Iran harassed another vessel but withdrew when they responded to calls for assistance.

The region remains under heightened tensions after this series of events. Security consultants have warned vessels to take extra caution while media reports have said the U.S. allies in the region have called on the U.S. and other international forces to increase security patrols. Both the U.S. Navy and UK’s Royal Navy reported that they would be increasing their activity in the region. The U.S. Navy said it increased the rotation of ships and aircraft patrolling the Strait of Hormuz with partners starting in May following an uptick in Iranian merchant vessel seizures.