US Navy increases presence in Strait of Hormuz and Gulf
The US Navy says it is maintaining an “increased presence” in the Strait of Hormuz following Iran’s recent seizure of Maersk Tigris, which led the United States to begin formally accompanying ships through the waterway.
"We have increased our level of presence to keep those sea lanes open and safe," Commander Kevin Stephens, a spokesman for the Navy's 5th Fleet in Bahrain, was quoted as saying by Military.com.
In addition to the Maersk Tigris incident, the harassment of an American-flagged ship by Iran, was seen as a clear and present threat to US shipping interests.
"The US-flagged Maersk Kensington felt threatened by Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats, which circled it as it was transiting the straits," Stephens said.
However, the Navy's move to accompany US and UK-flagged merchant ships through the Strait of Hormuz required the mobilisation of a wide range of naval vessels, which continue to be deployed in the Strait.
"We used US Navy surface combatants including destroyers and coastal patrol ships. They were supported by maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft including P-3 surveillance planes and unmanned aircraft systems," said Stephens.
Stephens confirmed that there have been no further incidents since the Maersk Kensington harassment and the release of Maersk Tigris. He added that US Navy ships routinely pass Iranian merchant and naval vessels at close quarters in the Strait.
"We're maintaining a presence in the area. The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow waterway. Nearly anytime you transit you will see Iranian vessels," he said.
Overall, the US Navy maintains a strong presence in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility, said Stephens in apparent reference to reports from security analysts that Iran’s seizure of Maersk Tigris was a show of brinkmanship by Tehran at a time when the US 5th fleet is overstretched.
The fleet is currently engaged in supporting Saudi-led airstrikes on Houthi rebels in Yemen and is actively patrolling Yemeni waters to ensure weapons are not smuggled into the country.
The USS Roosevelt aircraft carrier is stationed in the Arabian Gulf supporting ongoing air attacks against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, while ten coastal patrol ships are permanently based in the 5th fleet’s Bahrain home base.
The increased presence in the Strait is being supported by the addition to the 5th fleet of a mine countermeasure ship and an amphibious ready group in Bab-el-Mandeb, the strait between Yemen and the Horn of Africa.