The U.S. government is reportedly considering a plan to place armed military personnel on commercial ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz to deter Iran from seizing and harassing merchant vessels, the Associated Press reported Thursday citing anonymous U.S. officials.
If confirmed, it would be an unprecedented move by the United States to protect shipping through one of the world’s most critical waterways, responsible for more than 1/5 of the world’s oil.
The report stressed that a final decision on the plan has not yet been made.
Bloomberg seemed to confirm the AP’s report, reporting that U.S. Navy sailors and Marines are currently in training for such boardings.
The reports comes as the U.S. Department of Defense has been boosting its forces in the Gulf region after Iran has attacked, seized, or attempted to seize nearly 20 foreign-flagged ships in area since 2021. Last month, the Department of Defense announced it will send an additional U.S. Navy destroyer, USS Thomas Hudner, along with F-35 and F-16 fighter jets to the U.S. Central Command (Centcom) area of responsibility to protect freedom of navigation in the region.
While details of the plan to put military personnel on ships are unclear, it would be a complex task considering Iran doesn’t typically target U.S.-flagged ships. According to the AP report, the process would involve the approval from the vessels’ flag state and country of ownership.
There is somewhat of a precedent for the use of armed guards as a deterrent in shipping. The use of private armed security guards hired by shipowners played a major role in the shipping industry’s effort to combat Somali-based piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean roughly a decade ago. In fact, there was never a case of a ship with an embarked security team being successfully hijacked. However, it’s important to note that in the case of Somali piracy, the armed guards were provided by private maritime security companies (PMSCs), not the U.S. military.
Last month, the Iranian navy attempted to illegally seize two ships in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman. One of the ships, the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker TRF Moss, was approached by an Iranian naval vessel, but the Iranian vessel left after the arrival of a U.S. Navy destroyer. On the same day, the Bahamian-flagged oil tanker Richmond Voyager was approached by an Iranian naval vessel and fired upon. The Richmond Voyager was chartered by U.S. oil major Chevron.
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