WASHINGTON - A U.S. ship rescued six Iranian mariners in the Gulf after their boat broke down Jan. 10, the Pentagon said, in the latest such gesture despite soaring tensions between Washington and Tehran.
The Iranian crew used flares to seek help from the passing U.S. ship after flooding in the engine room left their dhow unseaworthy before sunrise some 50 nautical miles southeast of the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, U.S. officials said.
The Coast Guard cutter, the Monomoy, gave the Iranians water, blankets and meals made in accordance with Islamic law and provided medical care for one of the mariners who had suffered non-serious injuries, officials said.
A U.S. military statement said that Hakim Hamid-Awi, the owner of the Iranian dhow named the Ya-Hassan, was thankful.
"Without your help, we were dead. Thank you for all that you did for us," the U.S. statement quoted him as saying.
In the afternoon, U.S. forces transferred the six mariners on inflatable boats to an Iranian Coast Guard vessel, the Naji 7, the statement said. The captain of the Naji 7 also offered his regards to his U.S. counterparts and "thanks us for our cooperation," according to the U.S. statement.
The United States says that its forces routinely rescue sailors in distress regardless of nationality but officials have been eager to highlight efforts to assist Iranians amid Tehran's threats to close the crucial Strait of Hormuz.
Last week, the U.S. Navy rescued 13 Iranians held by pirates. Iran welcomed the gesture, even though it earlier had warned the ships to stay away.
That rescue was carried out by one of several warships escorting the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis, which the Iranian military had warned to stay out of Gulf waters or face the "full force" or Tehran's navy.
The Coast Guard cutter the Monomoy, which carried out the latest rescue, is in the Gulf to assist maritime security, according to the Pentagon.
Iran's threat - which analysts say it may not be able to carry out - came as the United States expanded sanctions against the Islamic regime and the European Union considers a total ban on oil exports from Tehran.
Western powers have been seeking to increase pressure on Iran due to fears it is developing nuclear weapons. Iran insists its uranium enrichment is solely for peaceful purposes.