Officials from the United States and the Marshall Islands are discussing "the way ahead" after Iranian patrol boats forcibly diverted a cargo ship flying a Marshall Islands flag into an anchorage in Iranian waters, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.
A US Navy destroyer, the Farragut, and three coastal patrol ships, the Thunderbolt, Firebolt and Typhoon, were operating in the vicinity of the Strait of Hormuz conducting maritime security operations following the detention of the cargo ship, the MV Maersk Tigris, the Pentagon said.
Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said US forces also had reconnaissance aircraft in the area to monitor developments with the Maersk Tigris, which was forcibly diverted to an anchorage near the port of Bandar Abbas as it was traveling through the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday.
Warren said the Pentagon was not clear why the ship was detained because Iran had given differing explanations for its rationale.
The Maersk Tigris was approached by Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boats on Tuesday while traversing the strait and was ordered to proceed into Iranian territorial waters. When the ship's master declined, the patrol boats fired across the ship's bow, forcing it to comply.
The vessel was later boarded by Iranian forces.
It was the second ship in less than a week to be approached by Iranian patrol boats. The earlier vessel, the US-flagged Maersk Kensington, was followed but no shots were fired.
Warren said the incidents showed a pattern of harassment.
"It has certainly created a situation where maritime cargo vessels presumably would have to consider the risks of traversing the strait," he told reporters.
Warren said the US government was in discussions with the Marshall Islands and referred reporters to the State Department. The United States is responsible for defense of the islands under an association compact that has been in force since 1986.
However, US officials have privately told Reuters that the United States is under no legal obligation to respond militarily in the case of the detained cargo ship.
Iran's foreign minister on Wednesday offered assurances that Tehran is committed to maintaining freedom of navigation in the Gulf.