Two Iranian speedboats attacked a Japanese-managed tanker in the southern Persian Gulf today shortly before the largest U.S.-escorted convoy of tankers so far sailed through the area, sources said.
The Iranian vessels attacked the Panamanian-registered tanker Liquid Bulk Explorer off the United Arab Emirates coast, causing a fire but no injuries.
The two Iranian speedboats swept toward the 7,060-ton tanker and sent several rocket-propelled grenades crashing into its hull near the Revolutionary Guard base of Abu Musa.
The Explorer radioed the Navy frigate Rentz, which was traveling with the U.S.-escorted convoy, to report the attack 18 miles southeast of Abu Musa.
The Rentz received the message as the frigate was steaming southbound toward Abu Musa at the end of the U.S. convoy.
"Maybe they will get hostile with you and you can shoot back," a caller aboard the Explorer told the U.S. frigate.
Stretching more than five miles, the convoy of three Navy frigates and six merchant ships snaked through the Strait of Hormuz overnight, emerging at dawn from the 22-mile-wide entrance to the Persian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman. The convoy reported no problems.
The Pentagon said the six ships in the new convoy included the Ibn Abdoun, a Bahraini-flagged vessel carrying U.S. "foreign military sales items under protected vessel status by the United States while transiting the Persian Gulf."
The Pentagon said Navy ships have escorted foreign-flagged vessels carrying foreign military sales items in the Persian Gulf twice before.