Iran appears to be testing the resolve of the United States and President Barack Obama in its latest adventure with a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz.
U.S. forces operating in the region heard and responded to the distress call sent by the M/S Maersk Tigris, sailing under the flag of the Marshall Islands, during a confrontation with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Marshall Islands are under a defense treaty with the United States; the U.S. is obligated to come to the defense of that nation should it be attacked.
The Iranian forces contacted the master of the cargo ship as it sailed through the Strait of Hormuz, ordering him to divert to Iranian waters. When he refused, the Iranian vessel fired warning shots across the bow of the Danish ship. IRGC forces then boarded the ship and guided it towards southern Iran.
By the time the U.S.S. Farragut, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer reached the location – more than 60 miles away at the start of the distress call – the Maersk was heading to Iran.
Apparently under Admiralty law, a commercial firm is allowed to go to court and obtain a court order to seize a ship to satisfy a debt, according to retired U.S. Navy captain and Fox News military analyst Chuck Nash.
Nash told Fox News journalist Gretchen Carlson on Wednesday that an Iranian company did just that about 10 or 12 years ago, after cargo that was to be shipped with a Maersk vessel never arrived.
Last Friday, four Iranian ships also dogged the heels of a Maersk ship as it sailed through the Strait of Hormuz. But that vessel was sailing under the flag of the United States of America, and eventually the Iranians abandoned their pursuit.
This week the targeted Maersk vessel was flagged under the Marshall Islands, which clearly emboldened its pursuers.
“The U.S. is under no obligation” to do [anything to defend the vessel] in the maritime realm, Nash explained. He pointed out the treaty with the Marshall Islands is a “clear spoken defense agreement should they be attacked” – on land.
The U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense has confirmed the above facts, saying the shipping company told U.S. Central Command that the Iran Navy “contacted the vessel and directed the Maersk Tigris’s master to divert further, into Iranian waters.” He added: “The master initially declined and one of the IRGC patrol craft fired shots across the Maersk Tigris’s bow. The master then complied and diverted under escort by the IRGC vessels.”
The Maersk issued a distress call when the shots were fired. The U.S.S. Farragut received that call and immediately launched a maritime reconnaissance aircraft to monitor the situation, and itself headed to site, he added.
The real questions now are:
- What is the status of the MaerskTigris, forced to a southern Iranian port city by Iranian forces?
- Where are the 34 sailors who were aboard the Maersk and what is their condition? Are they now hostages of Iran?
- Who has the obligation to rescue the crew of the Maersk? Who will ensure their safety?
- How will the United States consider this situation as it continues to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear development activities?
It’s important not to forget that Iran continues to hold U.S. citizens hostage, even as Secretary of State John Kerry carries on his nuclear development negotiations with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. They are:
- Saeed Abedini, 34, of Idaho, arrested during a 2012 trip to Tehran to visit family and sentenced to eight years in prison. Married father of two;
- Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent seized by Iranian intelligence in 2007 as he was investigating a cigarette smuggling case on Kish Island, an Iranian free-trade zone — the longest-held hostage in Iranian custody, assuming he is still alive;
- Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine arrested and charged with espionage in 2011 while visiting family in Tehran; and
- Jason Rezaian, the bureau chief for The Washington Post in Tehran, arrested in July 2014 on undisclosed “security-related offenses.” In January 2015 an Iranian prosecutor revealed Rezaian would be tried in a revolutionary court by one of the country’s most notorious hanging judges.
It is important to remember the names and circumstances of each of the hostages and to remind each candidate who stands for office as elections approach in 2016.