US Navy rescues Iranian sailors for third time since 2018

US warships have powerful optical systems, making them well equipped for rescue missions

The two Iranian mariners signal for assistance after their fishing vessel was adrift in the Gulf of Oman. AFP

The US Navy has rescued two Iranian seamen who had been adrift for eight days on a fishing boat in Gulf waters.

The men were in "good health and spirits" despite their ordeal, the navy said, reporting what is now almost an annual incident in rescuing Iranian civilian craft.

While the Arabian Sea is not known for dangerous sailing conditions, despite the increasing frequency of cyclones, smaller ships can still encounter difficulty. The US Navy has on occasion also come to the assistance of Iranian craft in the Gulf of Aden.

Naval vessels are well equipped for maritime rescue, with powerful infrared cameras and multiple crew members on lookout duty.

The US Navy’s Mark 20 Electro-Optical Sensor System (Eoss) for example, fitted to most surface warships, is a stabilised camera that can identify and track ships by night or day, including in severe weather over long distances.

While such a system is primarily for war, it is also useful for identifying ships in distress, used for navigation and situational awareness.

"A US Navy vessel rescued two Iranian mariners [on Saturday] from a fishing vessel after it was adrift for eight days in the Gulf of Oman," said the US Naval Forces Central Command, or Navcent.

Navy cargo ship Charles Drew arrived at the scene with food, water and medical care six hours after a distress call from the mariners, the statement said.

The two men were transported to an Omani coastguard vessel near Muscat. "The mariners were in good health and spirits at the time of the transfer," the navy said.

"We appreciate the government of Oman for its assistance and support in helping us return the mariners home," Navcent commander Vice Admiral Brad Cooper said.

The US and its regional allies share concerns about Iran, which has previously been accused of orchestrating attacks on shipping in the region. Tehran rejects the allegations.

Since February, Iran and its arch-enemy Israel have been accused of engaging in what analysts have called a "shadow war", in which vessels linked to each nation have come under attack in tit-for-tat exchanges in waters around the Gulf.

Sunday’s incident is not the first time the US has rescued Iranian sailors at sea.

In 2012, six Iranian sailors were rescued from a foundering cargo ship after its engine room flooded. The previous week, 15 Iranian sailors had to be rescued by the US Navy from pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

A similar incident occurred in 2017, also in the Gulf of Aden, when the USS Howard assisted the crew of an Iranian dhow.

In October 2018, US Navy destroyer USS Winston S Churchill sailed to the assistance of an Iranian dhow in the Arabian Sea.

The US ship radioed the drifting dhow, whose crew explained that their battery had gone flat. The Winston S Churchill had no replacement power source for the Iranian vessel and took the crew members, who had run out of food and water, on board. Oman’s coastguard later picked them up and arranged for their return home.

In December last year, the Maersk Kinloss, a US-flagged civilian cargo ship, rescued three Iranian sailors whose ship had sunk near Oman. Although a cargo ship, the Maersk Kinloss was also part of the US Maritime Security Programme, meaning that it could have been used for logistics by US forces in a time of war.

Updated: November 28th 2021, 4:02 PM