Iran’s government on Saturday welcomed U.S. navy rescue of 13 of its nationals from pirates near the entrance to the Gulf as a positive humanitarian gesture, in a rare respite from months of rising tensions between Tehran and Washington.
U.S. officials announced Friday that the fishermen had been rescued by a U.S. Navy destroyer on Thursday, more than 40 days after their boat was commandeered by suspected Somali pirates in the northern Arabian Sea. The rescue came just days after Tehran warned the U.S. to keep the same group of warships out of the Persian Gulf in a reflection of Iran’s fear that American warships could try to enforce an embargo against Iranian oil exports.
“We consider the actions of the U.S. forces in saving the lives of the Iranian seamen to be a humanitarian and positive act and we welcome such behavior,” foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told Iran’s Arabic-language broadcaster al-Alam on Saturday.
“We think all nations should display such behavior,” he added.
But one Iranian media outlet, the Fars news agency, which is close to the hardline Revolutionary Guards, dismissed the incident as a suspect “Hollywood movie” meant “to justify the presence of a (U.S.) aircraft carrier in Persian Gulf waters.”
The Fars report noted that attacks by Somali pirates in the region are common and said that Iran’s navy has itself freed many mariners held by pirates in recent years without seeking to highly publicize it.
The pirates were taken into custody and the Iranian fishermen released to return home on their dhow, which was refueled and restocked with provisions supplied by the US navy vessels.
“It is like you were sent by God,” one of the Iranian fishermen, Fazel Ur Rehman, 28, was quoted as telling his U.S. rescuers by the New York Times newspaper, which had a reporter and photographer travelling on the Stennis.
The U.S. reporter boarded the Iranian fishing vessel, al-Mulahi, with U.S. navy personnel and spoke with its crew, as well as with several of the Somali pirates arrested by the Americans.
The Iranian captain, Mahmed Younes, 28, told the New York Times the pirates had captured his vessel in late November and had since been using it as a mother ship for their operations around the region.
Amid escalating tension with Iran over its nuclear program, the Obama administration reveled in delivering Friday’s announcement and highlighted the fact that the rescuing ships were the same ones Iran’s army chief had just said were no longer welcome in the Persian Gulf.
Naval forces from several countries patrol shipping lanes in the region in pursuit of Somali pirates. The pirates, who are after huge ransoms, have dramatically expanded their range in recent years and targeted some of the largest vessels to take to the seas, including oil supertankers.