Six Iranian mariners have been rescued by American forces after their vessel broke down, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, days after announcing that a U.S. warship had rescued 13 Iranian fishermen kidnapped by pirates.
The Iranian mariners this time were in waters just off Iraq and the repeat rescue operation came as despite soaring tensions between Washington and Tehran in the wake of an international row over Iran’s nuclear operations.
The Iranian crew used flares to seek help from the passing U.S. Coast Guard cutter Monomoy, according to the Pentagon. They were some 50 nautical miles (90 kilometers) southeast of the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, AFP reported.
The Iranian ship’s master “requested assistance from the cutter indicating that the engine room was flooding and (the vessel was) not seaworthy,” Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain John Kirby said a U.S. Coast Guard cutter led the latest rescue mission. The Iranians said their ship had been taking on water.
“The six are on board the cutter right now,” Kirby said.
Last Thursday, U.S. naval forces in the northern Arabian Sea rescued 13 Iranian fisherman who were held hostages by pirates for more than a month, sending them home with food and fuel and wearing baseball caps bearing the name of the U.S. warship that freed them.
Those naval forces belonged to the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier strike group, which had been the target of earlier threats from Iran’s military not to return to the Gulf after departing in December.
Western powers have been seeking to increase pressure on Iran due to fears it is developing nuclear weapons. Iran insists its uranium enrichment is solely for peaceful purposes.
Iran threatened last month to shut off the Strait of Hormuz - the world’s most important oil shipping lane - if new U.S. and EU sanctions halted its oil exports.