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Iranian Navy Seizes 2 US Navy Maritime Drones

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The Iranian Navy seized two US Navy maritime drones in international waters in the Red Sea on Thursday. The drones were eventually returned, but a US defence official said the incident looked like an escalation of Iranian hostile actions against the United States.

Earlier this week, a similar incident took place in the Persian Gulf. “The fact that this happened two days after their unsuccessful attempt in the Arabian (Persian) Gulf looks to be an escalation,” the official said.

The incident began Thursday, the official said, when the Iranian Navy ship was observed taking two US drones out of the water “in an attempt to steal them,” according to the official. The US then quickly moved in with two nearby destroyers, the USS Nitze and USS Delbert D. Black, as well as two helicopters and communicated by radio to demand the drones be returned.

The Iranians agreed but requested time till daylight on Friday for safety reasons which the US agreed to, the official said.

The unmanned maritime vessels, known as Saildrone Explorers, had been operating in international waters in the southern Red Sea, four miles away from the nearest maritime traffic lane, according to US Central Command.

They had been operating in the area for about 200 days without being molested and were taking unclassified photos of the environment. Iranian state television broadcast a video showing the drones being pushed back into the water from the deck of the Iranian warship.

Iran’s state TV said the Iranian Navy seized the drones while carrying out an anti-terrorism mission in the Red Sea. “The destroyer Jamaran seized two vessels on Thursday to prevent any possible accident … the two vessels were released after international shipping lanes were secured and a warning was issued to the US fleet,” state TV said.

This incident occurs at a sensitive time when talks over a revived nuclear deal are faltering.

The US official noted that unprofessional interactions with the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy are rare. When other unprofessional incidents have occurred, they have typically involved Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval ships (IRGC), and not the regular Iranian Navy.

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