Coast Guard cutter fires warning shot at Iranian sailboat in brief altercation


The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Monomoy, far left, in transit toward Umm Qasr, Iraq, in 2012. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Fireman Austin Echols)

If things weren’t already tense enough in the Middle East, a U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat got into an altercation Tuesday with an Iranian sailboat in the Persian Gulf, the Pentagon announced.

U.S. military officials said the trouble started when the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Monomoy, which regularly patrols international waters in the Gulf, approached an Iranian dhow, a traditional sailing vessel used by fisherman and traders. According to the U.S. account, the cutter dispatched a smaller boat with some folks on board, apparently to try to get closer to the dhow and possibly climb aboard.

The dhow was less than friendly, however; its crew pointed a machine gun at the visiting party. In response, the Monomoy fired a warning shot, which apparently had its desired effect. The dhow sailed off, the cutter retrieved its personnel from the small boat and went its own way.

“I know there was one shot fired. Nobody hurt. Both the cutter and the dhow parted ways and there wasn’t more to it than that,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters in a brief summary of the incident.

Coast Guard patrol boats have performed maritime security operations in the Gulf since 2003 and can board suspicious vessels. The 110-foot cutters complement larger U.S. Navy ships in the region.

The Coasties are there to enforce international maritime law, but sometimes they lend a hand. Indeed, the Monomoy generated a spate of headlines in January 2012 when it rescued six Iranian fishermen whose dhow had flooded.

Craig Whitlock covers the Pentagon and national security. He has reported for The Washington Post since 1998.

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