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US says Iranians fire warning shots, board Marshall Islands ship

US defense officials have confirmed media reports that Iranian forces have seized a cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz. However, the Pentagon denied reports that a US vessel or crew members were involved.

Several news agencies on Tuesday quoted Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren who said that the ship in question was not American as had been claimed earlier by Iranian media, but was sailing under the flag of the

Marshall Islands, with which Washington has close ties.

Colonel Warren said the ship, the MV Maesk Tigris, was confronted by at least five Iranian patrol ships and ordered to proceed to Iran's Larak Island in the Persian Gulf. He said the captain initially rejected the demand, but then one of the Iranian ships "fired shots" across the bow of the Maersk Tigris. Warren said the captain subsequently "complied with the Iranian demand and proceeded into Iranian waters in the vicinity of Larak Island."

The Pentagon spokesman also said that the Maersk Tigris had been boarded by Iranians but that there had been not injuries. He stressed that no Americans were on the cargo ship.

Some reports have suggested that the Maersk Tigris was in international waters when confronted by the Iranian vessels, before it was forced into Iranian waters.

Warren said US Naval Forces Central Command, which is based in the region, had responded to a distress call sent out by the Maersk Tigris and that a US destroyer and aircraft were on their way the area.

There was no immediate comment from Iranian officials.

German operator

The Associated Press reported that Maersk, a Danish business conglomerate, had chartered the ship to Rickmers Ship Management, based in the northern German port of Hamburg.

The Marshall Islands are a sovereign nation but are connected to the United States through a "compact of free association," under which Washington is obliged to provide aid and defend the archipelago.

pfd/bw (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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