Thu, Feb 16, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Iranian boats follow US aircraft carrier in Strait of Hormuz

AP, ABOARD THE USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Iranian patrol boats and aircraft have shadowed a US aircraft carrier strike group as it transited the Strait of Hormuz.

Tuesday’s passage ended a Gulf mission that displayed Western naval power amid heightened tensions with Tehran, which has threatened to choke off vital oil shipping lanes.

However, officers onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln said there were no incidents with Iranian forces and described the surveillance as routine measures by Tehran near the strategic strait, which is jointly controlled by Iran and Oman.

Although US warships have passed through the strait for decades, the trip comes during an escalating showdown between Iran and the West over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. The last time an US carrier left the Gulf — the USS John C. Stennis in late December last year — Iran’s army chief warned the US it should never return.

The Lincoln was the centerpiece of a flotilla that entered the Gulf last month along with British and French warships in a display of Western unity against Iranian threats. There was no immediate comment by Iran about the Lincoln’s departure.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has said it plans its own naval exercises near the strait, the route for a fifth of the world’s oil supply. However, Iran’s military has made no attempts to disrupt oil tanker traffic — which the US and allies have said would bring a swift response.

Two US warships, one in front and one in the rear, escorted the Abraham Lincoln on its midday journey through the strait and into the Arabian Sea after nearly three weeks in the Gulf, which is only about 50km across at its narrowest point.

An Iranian patrol boat pulled nearby and later, an Iranian patrol plane buzzed overhead, while another patrol boat was waiting further down the coast.

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