(AA) – A State Department official confirmed Tuesday that Iranian patrol boats fired on a cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz, but denied reports of Americans onboard.
“According to information received from the vessel’s operators, there are no Americans aboard,” the official told The Anadolu Agency.
Al Arabiya News Channel claimed Tuesday that Iran fired on a U.S. cargo ship and directed it to the Bandar Abbas port on the southern coast of Iran. It also said as many as 34 American sailors are believed to be onboard.
But a Defense Department spokesman told The Associated Press that the ship was not an American ship.
Iranian patrol boats fired at the bow of the Marshall Island-flagged MV Maersk Tigris and directed it to leave Iranian territorial waters, said Col. Steve Warren.
Iranian forces boarded the ship but there were no injuries reported, according to the colonel.
U.S. Navy Forces Central Command, or NAVCENT, directed the USS Farragut to patrol in the area closest to the location of Maersk Tigris, a Pentagon official told The Anadolu Agency.
The Navy also directed an aircraft to observe the interaction between the Maersk vessel and the Iranian navy patrol craft.
“NAVCENT is communicating with representatives of the shipping company and we continue to monitor the situation,” he said.
State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke also touched on the incident during the press briefing.
Rathke said the vessel was “on an internationally recognized maritime route,” when seized but he did not clarify whether the ship was in international waters.
He said the Navy was involved because of a security agreement between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands.
“The Republic of the Marshall Islands, they have not requested specific U.S. assistance, but we do have a security compact with them, so we pay close attention to that,” he said.
After gaining military control of the Marshall Islands from Japan in 1944, the United States assumed administrative control of the islands under UN auspices following the end of World War II.
The Marshall Islands signed an agreement with the U.S. in 1983 and gained independence in 1986 with the accord that gives the U.S. authority and responsibility for security and defense matters that relate to the islands, including matters related to vessels flying the Marshallese flag.