Middle East-based commanders of the United States, the United Kingdom and French navies transited the Strait of Hormuz on Friday, following the seizure of vessels by Iranian forces in the region.
The commanders transited aboard the USS Paul Hamilton, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. Iran recently seized two tankers in the strait and is accused of seizing or attacking 15 ships in the last two years.
Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, told the Associated Press that Iran “seized or attacked 15 ships in the last two years, eight seizures and seven attacks.”
The joint transit allegedly indicates that the three nations have a unified strategy to keep the waterway safe for international transport.
At one point during the transit, the USS Paul Hamilton was approached by three fast boats which belonged to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
While there were no hostile exchanges, sailors on the vessel stood near loaded machine guns during the transit. Videos posted online show IRGC guardsmen with uncovered machine guns aboard the ship.
The British Royal Navy’s frigate HMS Lancaster, first launched by the late Queen Elizabeth in May 1990, also passed through the strait.
Cooper said the Iranian vessels came within about 900 meters (close to half a nautical mile) of the Hamilton ship.
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters last week that the U.S. intended to make “a series of moves to bolster our defensive posture” in the region.
He said a U.S. presence was necessary to secure the strait.
“The volume of commerce that flows through the Strait of Hormuz – it is critical to the world’s economy,” Kirby told journalists.
Iran disputed the necessity of “foreigners” in securing the Strait of Hormuz.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran and the countries south of the Persian Gulf are capable of cooperating to ensure the security of the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman,” Iranian Chief-of-Staff Mohammad Bagheri said in a news conference on Sunday morning.
“We have no need for foreigners to ensure the security of regional waters, which are currently secured by our navy men of the army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” he added.
Bagheri’s comments came during a press conference earlier on Sunday, when Iran announced the completion of an 8-month around-the-world trip by two of its warships.
The two vessels – the IRIS Dena and its support ship IRIS Makran, a former oil tanker converted into a forward base ship – began their journey last October, making stops in India and Indonesia before transiting the Pacific Ocean to South America.
In February, the vessels docked in Brazil despite U.S. pressure to deny docking rights.
After departing from Brazil, the two ships traveled to South Africa, and then to Oman, before returning to Iran.
According to Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani, the trip is proof that Iran has developed a strong navy.
“At the height of cruel sanctions, the Islamic Republic of Iran has turned into a prominent naval power and is capable of conducting large-scale naval operations at the level of first-grade powers,” he said.
Iranian media claim the vessels completed the entire trip in 232 days.