A U.S. Coast Guard cutter rescued six Iranian mariners from a vessel in distress in the Gulf, the second time in less than a week that the American military has come to the aid of Iranians at sea, an official said Tuesday.
Despite Iranian threats warning the U.S. Navy to keep its distance from the Strait of Hormuz, for the second time in a week the U.S. military has rescued distressed Iranian mariners in the Gulf waters.
In the early morning hours of January 10th the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Monomoy responded to flares fired from the Iranian cargo dhow, Ya-Hussayn, which was experiencing engine troubles 50 miles off the coast of Iraq.
Monomoy launched their small boat and rescued two men off the dhow and four others tied to a life raft off the stern.
In all, six Iranians were taken off the boat, one of whom is being treated for severe burns he suffered in the engine room, according to Pentagon Spokesman George Little. All of the men were provided water, blankets, and halal meals and were later transferred to the Iranian Coast Guard vessel Naji 7.
According to a Navy press release, Hakim Hamid-Awi, the owner of the Iranian dhow, told the Coast Guard's Rescue Coordination Center that "without your help, we were dead. Thank you for all that you did for us."
The Captain of the Naji 7 also thanked the Coast Guard for their cooperation, according to the release.
The rescue comes five days after the USS Stennis strike group rescued 13 Iranian fishermen held hostage by pirates for nearly two months in the North Arabian Sea.
Video released by the U.S. Navy shows a team from the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd boarding the ship and facing no resistance as they apprehended 15 Somali pirates.
Later, Cmdr. Jennifger Ellinger of the USS Kidd told reporters the Iranians were "extremely grateful" and expressed "sincere thanks" at the end of the 24-hour operation.
"Once we released them today they went on their way, very happily I might add, waving to us wearing USS Kidd Navy ball caps," said Rear Admiral Craig S. Faller, Commander, Carrier Strike Group Three. The pirates are still being held aboard the USS Stennis and are awaiting prosecution.
The back-to-back expressions of good will towards the Iranians come at a time of serious tensions between the two nations. Iran has recently conducted military exercises demonstrating a capability to close the Strait of Hormuz, a critical oil and cargo passage out of the Persian Gulf. And they've threatened to close the Strait if the U.S. and Europe make good on their intent to place embargoes on Iranian crude.
U.S. Military commanders have said explicitly that they have the ability to break the Iranian blockade and will use that force if needed. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta described closing the Strait as a "red line" that would elicit a U.S. response during an interview with CBS over the weekend.
On Tuesday, Chief Naval Officer, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, admitted, "If you ask me what keeps me awake at night, it's the Straight of Hormuz."