Strait of Hormuz
Strait of Hormuz Thinkstock

The US Navy has begun accompanying American-flagged ships in the Strait of Hormuz, US defense officials told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday. The move is a response to Iran’s seizure of a Marshall Islands-flagged ship this week in the strait that separates the Persian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean.

Iranian patrol boats confronted and took control of the M/V Maersk Tigris on Tuesday as it moved through the Straits.

The Navy makes a distinction between accompanying ships and escorting them, explained Fox News. Officials told the AP the Navy won't technically escort these ships but will let them know in advance that they will monitor the situation as they traverse the Strait.

The Navy already has sent a guided-missile destroyer, the USS Farragut, to the region. Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Wednesday the destroyer is "keeping an eye on things," and in close enough proximity to the seized ship that they "will be able to respond if a response is required." 

The increased tensions in the Gulf are bringing “further uncertainty” to US efforts to forge a nuclear agreement with Iran by a June 30 diplomatic deadline, stated the Journal, adding that while Iran said it had seized the cargo ship because of a financial dispute, American military officials said they saw it as a provocative show of force by Tehran.

Defense officials said that the Pentagon informed President Barack Obama about its plan to begin escorting ships in and out of the Gulf, and then began to implement it Thursday.

“Out of an abundance of caution, because of the unpredictability of our Iranian friends, we’re now positioned so that, should the Iranians decide that they’re going to be stupid, we’re ready to respond,” said one US official.

Tensions in the Gulf have been building for some time. In April, a US aircraft carrier shadowed an Iranian flotilla suspected of carrying arms for Tehran’s Houthi allies in Yemen, causing the flotilla to eventually turn back. Some Pentagon officials saw the seizure of the Maersk Tigris as a response to that incident.

According to the Journal, “The White House has said it is keeping the nuclear issues separate from regional security issues, but the unpredictable strategic steps in the strait are testing the US strategy.”