THE PENTAGON - The U.S. Navy may provide protection for commercial vessels from other countries passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
Pentagon officials said the Navy has already accompanied four American-flagged ships through the strait, including through the area of the passageway in Iranian waters.
"Current plans are for accompanying U.S.-flagged ships, although there are discussions with other nations to include their vessels as well," Col. Pat Ryder, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command which overseas operations in the Middle East, told reporters Friday.
Ryder added that any American ship can currently ask for this help, "but they certainly will not be compelled to accept" the Navy's offer.
U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren said the Navy adopted this "accompanying" policy after vessels from the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps fired warning shots over the bridge of a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship on Tuesday and detained it. The Maersk Tigris cargo ship and its crew remain anchored off Iran's Larak island.
"This is going to continue for an indefinite period of time," Warren said.
The Strait of Hormuz is one of the world's most important export routes.
Ryder said accompanying a vessel means having a ship in the area that can respond if required, while escorting is going alongside the ship in very close proximity.