|An Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boat fired warning shots at a Singapore-flagged commercial ship in the Gulf, a U.S. official has said. The Iranian ship fired across Singapore’s vessel in international waters in an apparent attempt to disable it over a financial dispute regarding damages to an Iranian oil platform.After firing the warning shots, Singapore’s MT Alpine Eternity headed towards the United Arab Emirates’ territorial waters. The Iranians then opened fire with machine guns, according to the unnamed U.S. official. The MT Alpine Eternity issued a call for help, which the UAE coast guard responded to, causing the Iranians to leave the area.
Attacking a nation’s cargo shipping fleet is no small move, as the industry serves as an influential economic force. Asia was the poorest continent on the face of the earth just 40 years ago — twice as poor as Africa is today — but now has one of the fastest growing economies and is twice as rich as Africa, thanks to its trade industry.
According to the U.S. official, the Alpine Eternity’s financial dispute with Tehran began on March 22 when it accidentally struck an Iranian oil platform. The ship, which was also damaged from the accident, went into port for repairs, during which time the Iranians informed the company that owns the Alpine Eternity that it must pay for the damages to the oil platform.
Perhaps the most troubling thing about the incident is that it was the second recent significant incident involving the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy and a commercial vessel in the Gulf. In late April, Iran seized a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship, and detained it for over a week. Similar to the incident with Singapore, Iran claimed the Danish shipping company that chartered the ship’s voyage owed money to an Iranian firm. Officials have not said whether any money was actually paid, though The Guardian (and other newspapers) reports that the dispute has been settled.
As to whether or not the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy will continue to strong-arm money from the companies of other nations is yet to be seen, though a disturbing pattern appears to be developing.