Iranian naval forces seized a British oil tanker and a Liberian-flagged vessel Friday in the Strait of Hormuz a day after the amphibious assault ship Boxer brought down an Iranian drone in the same narrow sea lanes to the Persian Gulf, British and U.S. officials said.
U.S. President Donald Trump said the latest incidents in the burgeoning crisis in the region "only [go] to show that Iran is trouble, nothing but trouble," but he gave no immediate indication that the U.S. is considering a military response.
"We heard it was one, we heard it was two" ships that were seized, Trump said, but he stressed that neither was American. Britain is a close ally, he added, but "we have no written agreement" to respond in the Gulf to Iranian provocations directed at British shipping.
The president suggested that the U.S. might once again broaden economic sanctions against Iran. He predicted that "Iran is going to work out very nicely" in the long run because of sanctions that have hit the Tehran regime to the point where it "can't even pay their soldiers."
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"It would be very easy for us to make it a lot worse," Trump said as he left the White House to spend the weekend at his Bedminster, New Jersey, estate.
Earlier, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that two ships had been seized in the Strait of Hormuz by Iranian naval forces in small patrol craft, The Associated Press reported.
British and U.S. officials said one of the ships was the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero, with 23 aboard. Iranian news outlets also said that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps had carried out the seizure of the Stena Impero.
British and U.S. officials said that a second ship, the Liberian-flagged MV Mesdar, also was seized.
In a statement, Bob Sanguinetti, chief executive of UK Chamber of Shipping, said, "we condemn unreservedly the capture of Stena Impero as she transited the Strait of Hormuz earlier today" with 23 aboard.
"Our priority is for the safety and welfare of the crew," Sanguinetti said, adding that, "this incident represents an escalation" of the crisis in the Gulf region and the threat to shipping brought on by the faceoff between the U.S. and the Tehran regime.
"Whilst we call for measured response, it is also clear that further protection for merchant vessels must be forthcoming," Sanguinetti said.
Iran's Fars news agency published a statement by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that said the Stena Impero was seized for violating the maritime rules for transit through the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf.
The IRGC statement said that control of the Stena Impero had been transferred to Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization "for further legal procedures and investigations."
Fars also said that the MV Mesdar had been released with a warning and had left Iranian territorial waters, but a Pentagon spokeswoman, citing U.S. Central Command, said the release of the ship could not be confirmed.
The seizures of the two ships came a day after the Boxer, while transiting the Strait of Hormuz, brought down an Iranian drone that Trump said in a statement from the White House was "threatening the safety of the ship and the ship's crew."
Iran denied losing a drone to electronic jamming equipment operated by Marines aboard the Boxer.
Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted military spokesman Gen. Abolfazl Shekari as saying that all Iranian drones in the region, "including the one which the U.S. president mentioned, have returned safely to base."
The crisis in the region began to escalate when National Security Adviser John Bolton announced May 5 that the aircraft carrier Lincoln, its strike group and other assets were being deployed to the Gulf in response to U.S. intelligence reports of Iranian threats to U.S. troops and national security interests.
On June 20, an Iranian missile shot down a U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Trump initially ordered a retaliatory strike, but later said he called it off with minutes to spare.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.