It is said in The DefenseNews that U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf are accompanying U.S.-flagged merchant vessels through the Strait of Hormuz after Iran’s recent seizure of one cargo ship and its harassment of another in international waters. A dozen ships are operating in the area and capable of providing support, the official said on May 1. U.S. warships frequently transit the strait, but it is more unusual for the U.S. to routinely convoy U.S.-flagged merchants through.
The warships include ships with the Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group, which entered 5th Fleet three weeks ago and spent several days in the waters off Yemen, a show of force that compelled Iranian ships to turn around. The ships at NAVCENT’s disposal include:
- The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71);
- The cruiser USS Normandy (CG-60);
- The destroyers USS Paul Hamilton (DDG-60), USS Milius (DDG-69), USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81) and USS Farragut (DDG-99);
- Coastal patrol ships USS Monsoon (PC-4), USS Typhoon (PC-5), USS Firebolt (PC-10), USS Whirlwind (PC-11) and USS Thunderbolt (PC-12);
- The minesweeper USS Devastator (MCM-6).
The move comes as tensions rise in the region, with news that Iranian navy ships harassed one U.S.-flagged shipping vessel in international waters and later boarded a Marshall Islands cargo ship, a country under U.S. protection. Only a week before, the Theodore Roosevelt and members of its strike group converged off the coast of Yemen, as rumors swirled that Iranian cargo ships were bringing in weapons to arm the Houthi rebels in their clash against Yemeni government.
The Defense Department is not communicating with Iran, and the country’s motives are, «not clear to the Department of Defense», Pentagon spokesman Army Colonel Steve Warren told reporters. «It’s difficult to know why the Iranians are operating this way», he said said. «We certainly call on them to respect all of the internationally established rules of freedom of navigation, the Law of the Sea, to which they are a signatory, and other established protocols».
On the other hand, according to Defense One, when Pentagon officials announced yesterday that they would increase protection for U.S.-flagged vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, they also introduced a bit of confusion. U.S. Navy sailors know what it means to escort another vessel. Generally speaking, a warship meets up with another ship, or even a group of them, and together they set out on a voyage, matching courses and speeds for most of the way. That is what happens when an aircraft carrier deploys with its battle group; that is what happened when U.S. warships shepherded tanker convoys through the war-wracked Persian Gulf of the late 1980s.
However, when Pentagon officials announced that the Navy would be increasing the protection given to U.S.-flagged ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz, they used a different word: «accompany». And it turns out they meant something a bit different from the far more commonly used «escort». A spokesman for the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, explained, «U.S. naval forces will transit the strait along with and nearby such shipping, although it is not as though they’ll necessarily be in some sort of formation».
«Accompanying is basically a step down from escorting», the official said. «The U.S. Navy ships will be in the same general area as the U.S.-flagged merchant vessels and are there to ensure a safe flow of maritime traffic in the Strait of Hormuz».