Iranian boats swarmed a merchant vessel in the Strait of Hormuz Sunday, leading to a distress call from the ship and the scrambling of a helicopter and a surveillance plane to the area, the U.S. Navy said.

The ship issued a distress call at 4:56 local time and reported that three fast-attack craft with armed gunmen were approaching and following them, a statement by the U.S. 5th Fleet said Sunday.

“The fast-attacked craft were assessed to be from the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy,” the statement said.

The U.S. accused Iran of seizing a commercial oil tanker in late April and another one in early May, as part of a series of 15 incidents in which the U.S. says Iran interfered with ships in the Middle East.

The Iranian government says its recent seizures of oil tankers were due to ship violations or legal disputes.

Black and white imagery released by the U.S. 5th Fleet on Sunday night shows what appear to be three fast-moving small boats speeding near a cargo ship.

The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul and the British Royal Navy frigate HMS Lancaster responded to the distress call, the U.S. Navy said.

The British ship launched a helicopter, and the U.S. Navy sent a P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft to the scene.

After an hour, the crew of the cargo ship said the fast boat had left, the U.S. Navy statement said.

After the seizures of the tankers, the U.S. said it increased its rotation of aircraft and ships in the Strait of Hormuz, off Iran’s coast. This includes Navy destroyers, Coast Guard fast response cutters, P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and unmanned systems, 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Tim Hawkins said in late May.

Source » stripes