(CNSNews.com) – A U.S. Navy warship which Iran claims to have chased away from a naval exercise in the Persian Gulf this week was at the time more than 7,000 miles away – in its home port of Norfolk, Virginia.
Iranian state media have been reporting that an Iranian Navy warship on Wednesday sent a warning to the USS Monterey, which Iran claims was sailing near its annual military exercises near the Strait of Hormuz, and that as a result of the warning the guided missile cruiser “left the region immediately.”
In the reports, some of which also carried photos of the Monterey, military officials claimed the U.S. vessel was evidently attempting to spy on the exercises.
But a spokesman for the Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet, Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, said not only was the Monterey not in the Gulf at the time of the alleged incident, it was “in her home port of Norfolk, Virginia.”
(The Monterey’s Facebook page features photos of a re-enlistment ceremony –in downtown Norfolk on Thursday.)
The semi-official Fars news agency reported that “a U.S. Navy warship on Wednesday morning received a serious warning from several Iranian destroyers to keep away from their drill zone near the Strait of Hormuz.”
“The USS Monterey (CG 61), a Ticonderoga-class cruiser, was sailing near the Strait of Hormuz where the Iranian forces were staging the main phase of the Velayat 94 massive wargames,” it said.
“According to the Iranian Army, the U.S. warship left the region immediately after receiving the warning.”
Fars quoted Iran Navy chief Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayari as saying the U.S. ship had evidently been trying “to come close to get informed of our moves and capabilities.”
The incident was reported by several other Iranian outlets, including the state news agency Tasnim, which said the Iran Navy “shooed away a U.S. warship and a fighter jet that had been approaching the drill zone.”
“He [Sayari] said the Americans were given warnings twice not to approach the drill area, once by a naval patrol aircraft and another time by the Navy’s Alborz destroyer,” said Tasnim, which did not identify the U.S. ship involved.
Fifth Fleet spokesman Stephens said Iran had given standard announcements about closing areas for live firing during its annual Velayat exercise but disputed the claims that any U.S. ship had changed course or conduct as a result.
“Iran has announced closure areas for live fire events associated with its exercise. This is a common practice for any navy conducting such training at sea,” he said. “Our forces similarly announce closure areas for our training events. We do not consider such announcements to be ‘orders.’
“No U.S. units took any action as a result of what the Iranian Navy might have characterized as a warning,” Stephens added. “We did have units who heard the closure area announcements but it did not cause them to alter their planned course or schedule.”
‘… recent events notwithstanding’
Stephens said the Fifth Fleet did not view Iran’s exercise as cause for concern.
“While the exercise may increase the probability for U.S. Navy forces to have interaction with Iranian warships, U.S. Navy forces are routinely approached by Iranian warships as they operate in the region, with the majority of all interaction by the Iranians conducted in a safe and professional manner recent events notwithstanding,” he said.
The Iranian claims came a fortnight after Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) personnel detained 10 U.S. Navy sailors and two small patrol vessels for around 14 hours, exploiting the incident for propaganda purposes by disseminating photos and video footage showing the sailors kneeling on a deck at gunpoint, hands clasped behind their heads.
The images were highlighted on supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s social media accounts, and a top military officials claimed later that U.S. military jets had been rapidly withdrawn from the area during the incident after being threatened with “hellfire.”
Secretary of State John Kerry engaged with his Iranian counterpart to ensure the incident was resolved quickly, and later was sharply criticized by some Republican senators after thanking the authorities in Tehran for their help.