Iran tries to ‘steal’ US sea drone

The US 5th Fleet shared footage of an Iranian ship allegedly attempting to make off with the high tech equipment

The US Navy said it stopped an Iranian vessel from capturing an American sea drone operating in the Persian Gulf, deploying a patrol ship and attack helicopters to thwart the attempt. 

The Navy’s 5th Fleet issued a statement on the run-in on Tuesday, saying that an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) support ship, the Shahid Baziar, was spotted towing a US Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessel “in an attempt to detain it” on August 29. The fleet shared video footage purporting to show the Baziar pulling the drone behind it.

A US coastal patrol ship, the USS Thunderbolt, was in the area when the Iranian ship was seen and was dispatched “immediately” to respond, as was a MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter, the Navy said. The IRGC vessel then disconnected its tow line from the drone and left the area after some four hours, ending the incident.

“[The IRGC Navy’s] actions were flagrant, unwarranted and inconsistent with the behavior of a professional maritime force,” said Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, who commands the 5th Fleet. “US naval forces remain vigilant and will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows while promoting rules-based international order throughout the region.”

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FILE PHOTO: A newly Iranian-made drone, 'Shahed 129' (Witness 129) being shown in Tehran. © HO / SEPAH NEWS / AFP
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According to fleet spokesman Commander Timothy Hawkins, who was reached by the Associated Press, the Thunderbolt attempted to radio the Iranian ship to inform its crew the drone was American, though he did not say whether the Iranians responded.

While the Navy noted the sea drone “does not store sensitive or classified information,” it nonetheless said it is US government property, equipped with “sensors, radars and cameras for navigation and data collection.”

The Iranian government has not yet acknowledged the incident, which would mark the first time Tehran attempted to target the 5th Fleet’s drone task force, a new unit launched last year during a time of rising tensions with Iran.

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