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Iranian ship attempts to capture US unmanned vessel

A screenshot shows the Iranian ship towing a Saildrone Explorer as USS Thunderbolt approaches on 30 August. (US Naval Forces Central Command)

The US Navy's 5th Fleet reported the first attack on its new fleet of unmanned surface vessels (USVs) on 30 August, when it said one of its Saildrone Explorers was captured by an Iranian ship in international waters in the Gulf the previous night.

It identified the Iranian vessel as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN) support ship Shahid Baziar and released a video showing what appeared to be a cargo ship of roughly 60 m in length towing the Saildrone Explorer.

The coastal patrol ship USS Thunderbolt was operating nearby and tasked with intercepting the IRGCN vessel and an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter took off from its base in Bahrain to monitor the situation.

“The actions taken by US naval forces in response resulted in the IRGCN vessel disconnecting the towing line to the USV and departing the area approximately four hours later,” the 5th Fleet said in a statement.

“[The] IRGCN's actions were flagrant, unwarranted, and inconsistent with the behaviour of a professional maritime force,” it quoted 5th Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Brad Cooper as saying.

Iran's Tasnim News Agency said the 5th Fleet's description of the event was a “Hollywood narrative” and that the IRGCN had taken the USV under tow to prevent an accident in a shipping lane. It added that the USVs that have been sent out from Bahrain for unclear reasons in recent weeks were causing problems in international shipping lanes because of the possibility of them losing navigational communications.

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