Ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf have reported unusual GPS interference, among other problems, and the US believes Iran is to blame.
The Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration issued a warning on Wednesday highlighting threats to commercial vessels posed by Iran. The warning revealed that ships have had a variety of issues when operating in the region, including “spoofed bridge-to-bridge communications from unknown entities falsely claiming to be US or coalition warships.”
“Due to the heightened regional tensions, the potential for miscalculation or misidentification could lead to aggressive actions against vessels belonging to US, allied and coalition partners operating in the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Gulf of Oman,” US Central Command (CENTCOM) explained in an emailed statement, adding that ships have reported experiencing “GPS interference, bridge-to-bridge communications spoofing, and/or other communications jamming with little to no warning.”
In some cases, a US official told CNN, Iranian Navy and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps vessels have spoofed merchant ship automatic identification systems to make themselves look like commercial shipping vessels.
At least two incidents allegedly involved GPS interference.
A US defense official told CNN that Iran has GPS jammers operating on Abu Musa Island, an island in the Persian Gulf located near the Strait of Hormuz, adding that the aim is apparently to cause ships and aircraft to inadvertently wander into Iranian waters or airspace, thus justifying a seizure.
Following a string of suspected limpet mine attacks on commercial shipping vessels, actions the US military has attributed to Iran, Iranian forces began seizing tankers. Following the seizure of an Iranian tanker believe to be in violation of sanctions by British forces, the Iranians tried unsuccessfully to capture the BP oil tanker British Heritage.
Not long after that incident, Iran seized the UK-flagged Stena Impero. While the Royal Navy was able to protect the British Heritage, the Stena Impero sailed un-escorted.
In the wake of these incidents, the US has worked to establish a US-led coalition to safeguard commercial shipping in the hotbed region. The British defense ministry has already committed the Royal Navy to this mission.
The US has significant assets already in the region, including ships and aircraft that were deployed to the region in recent months specifically to counter Iranian threats, and the British frigate HMS Montrose and destroyer HMS Duncan are already defending ships in the area.
“The US remains committed to working with allies and regional partners to safeguard the freedom of navigation, the free flow of commerce, and the protection of US vessels and personnel in this region,” CENTCOM, which overseas American military operations in the Middle East, said.