Earlier this morning, Al Arabiya reported Iranians boarded a U.S. ship. That report quickly changed to, “Iran has opened fire at a U.S. cargo ship and directed it to Bandar Abbas port on the southern coast of Iran.”

The BBC, Reuters, and the Telegraph picked up the story, regurgitating Al Arabiya’s scoop.

So what really happened? While the story is still developing, here’s what we know thus far:

The ship was not a U.S. cargo ship.

The cargo vessel is part of the Maersk line.

According to the Pentagon, no Americans were on board. The State Department confirmed.

Though it appears Iran did in fact fire warning shots; a move Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said it was “inappropriate,” according to CNN.

Not a U.S. ship, no Americans, end of story, right? Maybe not…

The Maersk vessel is a Marshall Island-flagged ship which means it’s an American protectorate. According to the Department of State, “the United States has full authority and responsibility for security and defense of the Marshall Islands, and the Government of the Marshall Islands is obligated to refrain from taking actions that would be incompatible with these security and defense responsibilities.” Contingent upon how this situation pans out, the U.S. might be on the hook to help out.

See also, the Compact of Free Association.

And the whole, “Maersk ship was in Iranian waters” thing?

USA Today reports the ship was in Iranian waters, saying, “although the Maersk Tigris was in Iranian waters, Warren said ships regularly transit the narrow strait without incident under the recognized authority of “innocent passage.”” The New York Times says the vessel wasn’t up to anything out of the ordinary as it was, “traveling through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf on what the official called “an internationally recognized maritime route.””

But why this ship? CNN reports:

The M/V Maersk Tigris was seized at the request of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization (IPMO), Iran’s semi-official FARS is reporting, citing informed sources. The Marshall Islands-flagged vessel was seized after a relevant court order was issued according to the source, indicating that the IPMO had monetary differences with the ship owner.

U.S. forces responded.

And according to Reuters, the Pentagon is viewing the actions as intentional provocation, “Iran’s Tasnim news agency quoted an unidentified source who sought to play down the incident, saying it was a civil matter with no military or political dimension. But the Pentagon described it as an apparent provocation.”



As it turns out, Iran played the same maritime bully game Friday of last week, but with an American ship. Of course we’re only now hearing about it, thanks to their stunt this morning. CNN reports:

A U.S.-flagged ship was recently intercepted by an Iran Revolutionary Guard naval patrol, the U.S. Navy revealed to CNN Tuesday.

The incident occurred on Friday when four Iranian naval vessels surrounded the U.S.-flagged Maersk Kensington in the Strait of Hormuz.

The episode came ahead of an encounter Tuesday in which Iran Revolutionary Guard patrol boats fired shots at a commercial cargo ship and then intercepted the vessel, the Marshall Islands-flagged M/V Maersk Tigris, which was also crossing the Strait of Hormuz.

A senior U.S. military official told CNN that “the Iranians encircled the Kensington and followed the ship on its course for a period of time before withdrawing and breaking away.” After that, the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet issued a notice to mariners about the incident.

And bonus:

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