Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran tried to seize two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz early Wednesday, firing shots at one of them, the U.S. Navy said.
It said that in both cases, the Iranian naval vessels backed off after the U.S. Navy responded, and that both commercial ships continued their voyages.
“The Iranian navy did make attempts to seize commercial tankers lawfully transiting international waters,” said Cmdr. Tim Hawkins, spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. “The U.S. Navy responded immediately and prevented those seizures.”
He said the gunfire directed at the second vessel did not cause casualties or major damage.
There was no immediate Iranian comment on the incidents.
The U.S. Navy said an Iranian naval vessel approached the Marshall Islands-flagged TRF Moss in the Gulf of Oman at around 1 a.m. The U.S. deployed the USS McFaul, a guided-missile destroyer, as well as as MQ-9 Reaper drone and a P-8 Poseidon patrol plane.
Three hours later, the U.S. Navy received a distress call from the Bahamian-flagged oil tanker Richmond Voyager more than 20 nautical miles off the coast of Muscat, the capital of Oman. The Navy said another Iranian naval vessel had closed within a mile (1.6 kilometers) of the tanker and had ordered it to stop.
The same U.S. destroyer sped toward the tanker at “maximum speed,” the Navy said in a statement. “Prior to McFaul’s arrival on scene, Iranian personnel fired multiple, long bursts from both small arms and crew-served weapons,” it said.
The U.S. Navy says Iran has seized at least five commercial vessels in the last two years and has harassed more than a dozen others. Many of the incidents have occurred in and around the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all crude oil passes.
In April, masked Iranian navy commandos conducted a helicopter-borne raid to seize a U.S.-bound oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, footage of which was aired on Iranian state TV. Iran said the tanker was seized after it collided with another Iranian vessel but provided no evidence. In the past, Iran has seized commercial vessels to use as bargaining chips with the West.
Tensions have steadily risen since the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers and restored crippling sanctions. Iran has responded by ramping up its nuclear activities — which it says are purely peaceful — and is also providing armed drones to Russia for its war against Ukraine.