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U.S. destroyer aids crew of sinking Iranian fishing vessel

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 10:58 AM EST, Thu January 19, 2012
Two Iranian boats continue their voyage after USS Dewey provided the distressed mariners with food, water and medical supplies.
Two Iranian boats continue their voyage after USS Dewey provided the distressed mariners with food, water and medical supplies.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Troops from the USS Dewey provided food, water, medical and hygienic supplies
  • The Iranian crew is forced to abandon their flooding vessel
  • It is the third time this month that U.S. sailors have assisted Iranians at sea

(CNN) -- U.S. sailors aboard a guided-missile destroyer aided the crew of a sinking Iranian fishing vessel in the Arabian Sea, the U.S. Navy said Thursday.

The crew had already boarded two other vessels and were safe, the USS Dewey said in a statement. But U.S. sailors boarded the vessels and provided food, water, medical and hygienic supplies, the statement said.

It was the third time this month that Americans have assisted or rescued Iranians at sea, despite a wave of tension between Iran and the United States. Tehran and Washington have been adversaries for decades.

The incident began Wednesday morning, when a helicopter spotted the disabled dhow, Al Mamsoor, which was tethered to two other dhows, the Dewey said. After determining the crew was safe and reporting the sighting to the Dewey, the helicopter remained on scene, the statement said.

U.S. ships harassed in Strait of Hormuz

The Dewey traveled to the scene to assist the fishermen, and its Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) team was sent to communicate with the displaced crew members.

"Once we talked with their captain, it was clear that they needed food and water," said Lt. j.g. Jason Dawson, head of the VBSS team, in the statement.

The U.S. sailors spent about two hours with the crew, providing supplies and confirming the crews of the other dhows did not need additional fuel, the Dewey said. "While rendering aid, they learned that the Al Mamsoor (crew) fought flooding for three days before finally abandoning their vessel."

The sailors provided about 150 pounds of supplies before returning to the Dewey, the statement said.

"I'm very proud of my team," Dawson said. "The crew of the dhow knew that we were there to help, and we did."

Dhows are traditional Arab fishing vessels that are typically rigged with triangular sails.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued six Iranian mariners at the northern end of the Persian Gulf, the Pentagon said.

The Iranians' small merchant vessel, the cargo dhow Ya-Hassan, apparently flooded, and the Coast Guard cutter responded to flares and flashlights from the vessel in distress. One Iranian was treated for minor injuries, and the crew was given water, blankets and halal meals -- prepared in accordance with Muslim law, and kept on board in case Muslim mariners are in distress.

The six were then transferred via rigid-hull inflatable boats to an Iranian Coast Guard vessel.

"Without your help, we were dead," the Pentagon quoted Hakim Hamid-Awi, the owner of the Ya-Hassan, as saying. "Thank you for all that you did for us."

Also earlier this month, the destroyed USS Kidd -- whose recent presence in the Persian Gulf drew the ire of Iranian military officials -- rescued 13 Iranian sailors from a hijacked fishing boat near the Strait of Hormuz.

A helicopter from the Kidd saw a suspected pirate boat alongside the Iranian vessel, the Navy said, and at about the same time the Kidd received a distress call from the vessel's captain, saying pirates were holding him and his crew captive.

A team from the Kidd boarded the vessel, took 15 suspected pirates into custody and freed the 13 Iranian hostages, the Navy said.

Ramin Mehmanparast, spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, told Arabic news network Al-Alam, "Rescuing Iranian sailors by the U.S. was a humanitarian act, and we welcome such acts. The Iranian Navy also engages in such rescue operations. It is the responsibility of all nations to rescue nationals from other countries by pirates."

Both the USS Kidd and the USS Dewey are part of the USS John Stennis Strike Group, which moved into the Arabian Sea from the Persian Gulf recently after Iranian military officials said the United States should not send any more warships into the Gulf.

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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