GOP hawks challenge Pentagon over Marshal Island-flagged vessel seizure

US Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have challenged a Pentagon statement which says the US has no military obligation to defend Marshall Island-flagged vessels, saying Iran’s seizure of the cargo is a “deliberate provocation” against America.

“Iran’s seizure of the Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship transiting the Strait of Hormuz, is a serious and deliberate provocation against the United States and the international community,” McCain and Graham said in a statement on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Iranian forces boarded the Marshall Islands-flagged MV Maersk Tigris container ship in the strategic Strait of Hormuz based on a local court decision.

In response to the vessel’s distress call, the USS Farragut and a Navy P-3 Orion aircraft were dispatched to the scene, but they were told by Iranian forces not to intervene.

A Pentagon spokesperson said, “I am not aware of any specific agreement or treaty that calls for us to protect Marshallese vessels. We do have a clear interest in protecting freedom of navigation.”

However, the hawkish Republicans said, “Under the Compact of Free Association, the United States is responsible for the defense of the Marshall Islands.”

Iranian forces boarded Marshal Islands-flagged vessel, Maersk Tigris, to a port south of Iran on Tuesday, file photo.

McCain and Graham said Iranian forces seized the Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship “just days” after intercepting and surrounding a US-flagged cargo ship in the same area.

“This act is another display of Iran’s contempt for the rules-based international order and a threat to the freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most vital sea lanes,” they claimed.

A Pentagon official claimed that four Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s patrol boats intercepted the US-flagged container ship M/V Maersk Kensington last Friday in the Persian Gulf, according to FOX News.

The Iranian boats encircled Maersk Kensington, but eventually withdrew without firing any warning shots or boarding the vessel, according to the official.

The official claimed that the cargo ship did not request assistance, but reported the incident to US Naval Forces Central Command.

On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham defended as legal Iran’s decision to seize the cargo ship.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham

“The move was in the framework of the laws and regulations of the Islamic Republic of Iran and [is] consistent with International regulations and protocols,” Afkham said.

Afkham expressed hope that the ship could be released soon after “its overdue debt is settled,” adding that the vessel is currently docked at the Bahonar Port near Bandar Abbas in south Iran.

By Press TV