Iran briefly seizes 2 US sea drones in Red Sea amid tensions

AP , Friday 2 Sep 2022

Iran said Friday its navy seized two American sea drones in the Red Sea before letting them go, the latest maritime incident involving the U.S. Navy's new drone fleet in the Mideast.

The U.S. Navy, a Saildrone Explorer
File Photo: The U.S. Navy, a Saildrone Explorer unmanned sea drone sails in the Gulf of Aqaba on Feb. 9, 2022. AP

 

Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins, a spokesman for the Navy's Mideast-based 5th Fleet, acknowledged the incident on Friday to The Associated Press but declined to immediately elaborate.

Iranian state television aired footage it said came from the deck of the Iranian navy's Jamaran destroyer, where lifejacket-wearing sailors examined what appeared to be two Saildrone Explorers. They tossed one overboard as another warship could be seen in the distance.

State TV said the Iranian navy found ``several unmanned spying vessels abandoned in the international maritime routes'' on Thursday.

``After two warnings to an American destroyer to prevent possible incidents, Jamaran seized the two vessels,'' state TV said. ``After securing the international shipping waterway, the Naval Squadron No. 84 released the vessels in a safe area.''

This marks the second such incident in recent days as negotiations over Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers hang in the balance. The earlier incident involved Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, not its regular navy, and occurred in the Arabian Gulf.

The 5th Fleet launched its unmanned Task Force 59 last year. The 5th Fleet's area of responsibility includes the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which 20% of all oil passes.

It also stretches as far as the Red Sea reaches near the Suez Canal, the waterway in Egypt leading to the Mediterranean, and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait off Yemen.

The region has seen a series of maritime attacks in recent years.

Off Yemen, bomb-laden drone boats and mines set adrift by Yemen's Houthi rebels have damaged vessels amid that country's yearslong war.

Near the United Arab Emirates and the Strait of Hormuz, oil tankers have been seized by Iranian forces. Others have been attacked in incidents the Navy blames on Iran.

Those attacks came about a year after then-President Donald Trump's 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw from Iran's nuclear deal, in which sanctions on Tehran were lifted in exchange for it drastically limiting its enrichment of uranium.

Negotiations to revive the accord now hang in the balance. The U.S. cast doubt Friday on Iran's latest written response to the talks.

Iran now enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels as officials openly suggest Tehran could build a nuclear bomb if it wishes to.

Iran has maintained its program is peaceful, though Western nations and international inspectors say Tehran had a military nuclear program up until 2003.

Short link: