The Mideast-based commanders of the U.S., British and French navies transited the Strait of Hormuz on Friday aboard an American warship, a sign of their unified approach to keep the crucial waterway open after Iran seized two oil tankers.
Tensions in the Persian Gulf have been volatile since Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers collapsed, following the U.S.′ unilateral withdrawal five years ago. The incredibly rare, joint trip by the three navy chiefs aboard the USS Paul Hamilton, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, saw three fast boats of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard approach the vessel at one point.
Guardsmen stood by uncovered machine guns on their decks, while sailors aboard the Paul Hamilton similarly stood by loaded machine guns as others shot photographs and video of the vessels. An Associated Press journalist also accompanied the allied naval commanders.
While the Guard kept its distance from both the Paul Hamilton and the passing British frigate HMS Lancaster, their presence showed just how tense passage for vessels can be in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of global oil supplies passes.
“Iran has seized or attacked 15 ships in the last two years. Eight seizures and seven attacks,” Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, who oversees the U.S. Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet, told the AP. “So the shipping industry is mindful of what the security posture looks like in the region. We have the ability to positively impact that influence and that’s what we’re doing now.”
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