A U.S. Coast Guard vessel fired in self-defense on an Iranian boat in the Persian Gulf, the Navy said Wednesday. Some analysts say the encounter could aggravate tensions between the two nations as they attempt to negotiate a deal over Iran's nuclear program.
Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said personnel on a small boat dispatched from the U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat Monomoy fired a single shot when it saw crew on a nearby Iranian dhow training one of its two .50-caliber machine guns on them and preparing to fire.
"This action by the dhow's crew demonstrated hostile intent, which resulted in the defensive fire by the Coast Guardsmen," he said. Dhows are wooden boats common to the region, which typically are used for trade.
No Americans were wounded in the encounter, which happened in international waters around 11:30 a.m. local time Tuesday, said Stephens
Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby also confirmed in a Tuesday news conference the occurrence of the incident without giving additional details.
The Monomoy was operating on "a routine maritime security operation" when it contacted the dhow's bridge. After initial contact, the Iranian vessel stopped communicating and the Coast Guard ship deployed small boat to investigate, said Stephens.
It was not clear if the shot hit the Iranian vessel or if anyone onboard was injured. Iranian officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
American, Iranian and other countries' military vessels routinely patrol the Gulf, a key route for international oil shipments, usually without incident.
Speed boats from Iran's Revolutionary Guard, however, have passed close to U.S. ships in incidents that have raised alarm in Washington.
In early 2008, then-President George W. Bush accused Iran of a "provocative act'' after five small Iranian craft buzzed around the destroyer USS Hopper.
Tuesday's encounter happened as the U.S. and other world powers negotiate with Iran over its controversial nuclear program, and just days after Iran claimed it shot down a purported Israeli drone near a nuclear facility. Israeli officials have not commented on the incident.
The West and Israel believe the program is aimed at building a nuclear weapon. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes only, such as power generation and medical research.
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.