Per media reports, US Marines are being trained to protect ships transiting the Gulf region, particularly the Strait of Hormuz. This comes after Iran’s relentless attempts at illegally seizing and harassing commercial vessels in the strategic maritime chokepoint.
100 Newly trained US Marines are ready to provide armed security onboard foreign commercial vessels crossing the Hormuz Strait, said a US Navy official.
The Marines are part of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which joined the three-ship Bataan Amphibious Group. They left Europe for Bahrain, where they received training as ship security officers and units. Additional Sailors, including the ones stationed in the US Central Command Region, are also receiving training here.
The training commenced after the 6th of August when the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan and dock landing vessel USS Carter Hall arrived in Bahrain. USS Mesa Verde, which is the third ship of the group, is still in Europe now. It will remain stationed in the Mediterranean in the US Naval Forces Europe-Africa area.
The idea behind training teams of 15 to 19 Marines is to counter Iran’s maritime forces, especially it’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, to stop the latter from harassing, intercepting and illegally seizing merchant ships.
Officials of the Defense Department stated that Iran has frequently disrupted the flow of commerce in the region. Hence, the Defense Secretary of the US decided to deploy special forces to safeguard the safety of maritime trade in the Hormuz Strait and the Gulf.
However, putting the Marines and sailors on commercial ships would be a huge step in the post-World War II era, showcasing the readiness of the US to protect the right of ships to cross the strait and nearby waters safely and freely.
The US has come up with criteria in terms of these short-voyage boardings like the vessels’ country of origin, type of cargo being carried, country of ownership of cargo etc. This will help determine which ships would qualify for protection.
The security teams of specially trained marines would provide an additional layer of protection for commercial ships that transit through such areas, as extra US naval forces and ships have already been deployed in the region.
The Marines would board the ships for a short duration of the voyage only when the ships transit the Gulf region. However, they would only do so at the request of shippers and approval from the nation under which the vessel is flagged and the country under which the owner is registered.
The marines training in Bahrain, home of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. 5th Fleet, have arrived in the region, while thousands more will reach over the weekend.
It is unclear where exactly would the marines and sailors board the commercial ships and from where they will disembark.
Why protect the Strait of Hormuz?
Approximately 17 million barrels of oil are transported through the strait every day, accounting for 20-30% of the world’s consumption, per Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas, Austin.
There are only a few options for shipping oil, like pipelines which cannot be used at all places due to geographical constraints. Hence the use of the Hormuz Strait becomes a necessity.
Oil exports from Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait travel through this strategic maritime chokepoint amid the Persian Gulf and Oman Gulf.
Iran has attempted to create tensions in this passageway, trying to commandeer 2 tankers in the Oman Gulf close to the Hormuz Strait while firing on one. The NAVCENT/5th Fleet responded quickly, preventing Iran from taking the ships.
In April, Iran seized a Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker ship heading to Texas. Iran has attacked, harassed and attempted to confiscate over 20 ships since 2021, said the US Navy, adding that it has become vital for the US to protect this key trade route.
It has been seen that Iranian vessels fled once a US Destroyer came to the scene.
US Navy Destroyers, USS McFaul, USS Paul Hamilton and USS Thomas Hudner, are already in the Gulf region.
Additionally, a squadron of Air Force F-35 Lightning II fighter jets reached the Middle East along with Planes from the 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from Utah, an A-10 Thunderbolt squadron, and two F-16 squadrons to patrol the strait.
US-Iran relations have been strained for many years now, starting from the ‘oil tanker’ war of the 1980s and the tanker-escort Operation Earnest Will. On many occasions, Iranian officials have threatened to block or close the Hormuz Strait, which could heavily impact the world’s oil and energy supply.
Due to Iran’s actions, the strait has become a dangerous area for commercial ships. In 2019, many ships and oil tankers were struck by waterborne explosives said to be implanted by Iran in the area.
In April 2015, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps patrol boats stopped the container ship MV Maersk Tigris and fired at its bow when its captain denied to sail in Iranian territorial waters. The ship was confiscated and released 10 days later due to a financial dispute with the ship owner Maersk.
This incident prompted the US to safely escort its military ships and British-flagged commercial ships through the Hormuz Strait, although it lasted just a week. However, given Iran’s continuous infringements and illegal activities, the US has decided to deploy marines on commercial ships, a first in US History.
Placing armed troops on commercial vessels is legal under international maritime law however, the plan can be complex since it raises many questions and involves many stakeholders, including the military, the government, shipping companies, and owners of ships and cargo. Hence everything will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
References: USNI News, Popular Mechanics, legion.org
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