Iran’s Jousting in International Waters Threatens Global Shipping

Iran's dangerous jousting in international waters threatens global shipping. Read about the escalating threats and the potential impact on trade.

The article “Iran’s Jousting in International Waters Threatens Global Shipping” highlights the escalating threats posed by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz. With a recent surge in attacks on merchant vessels, including attempts to seize two vessels in international waters, concerns about security in this crucial oil-transit chokepoint are reaching new heights. International shipping companies and insurers have been spooked by Iran’s aggressive actions, prompting the United States Navy to dispatch a force of 3,000 sailors and Marines in an effort to maintain safe shipping. However, the challenge lies in preventing armed confrontation with Iran while effectively protecting merchant vessels. This article delves into the implications of Iran’s dangerous jousting and the potential impact on global shipping.

Iran’s Jousting in International Waters: Threats to Global Shipping

Irans Jousting in International Waters Threatens Global Shipping

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Introduction to the Strait of Hormuz

The Strait of Hormuz gained international attention in 2019 when Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps seized the Stena Impero, a Swedish-owned, UK-flagged tanker. Though the ship and crew were later released, the incident raised concerns about security in the Strait of Hormuz, particularly for shipping companies and insurers. Recently, there has been an increase in Iranian attacks on merchant vessels, highlighting the need for measures to ensure the safety of global shipping.

The 2019 Seizure of the Stena Impero

The seizure of the Stena Impero was a dramatic event that involved Iranian commandos boarding the tanker from a helicopter and speedboats. The ship and its crew were taken to an Iranian port, resulting in a standoff with the UK, which had seized an Iranian tanker suspected of sanctions violations just weeks earlier. This event marked a turning point in the security of the Strait of Hormuz and raised concerns among shipping companies and insurers.

Continued Attacks on Merchant Vessels

Since 2021, Iran has continued to attack merchant vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf, and the Gulf of Oman. These attacks, often carried out by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, have targeted ships with ties to U.S. companies, making them a clear message to the United States. Over 20 merchant vessels have been attacked by Iran alone, creating uncertainty and insecurity for global shipping.

The Importance of the Strait of Hormuz

The Strait of Hormuz is the world’s most important oil-transit chokepoint, with approximately 30% of the world’s crude oil passing through it. As a result, any disruption in the strait has significant implications for global trade and security. The recent attacks on merchant vessels in this crucial waterway have sent a message that nation-states can attack ships with impunity, endangering the safety and stability of global shipping.

Implications for Global Shipping

The ongoing disruption of shipping in the Strait of Hormuz poses significant challenges for the global shipping industry. Merchant vessels, relying on a guarantee of protection from nation-state violence, face increased risks and uncertainties. If companies perceive a lack of security in international waters, they may hesitate to ship goods, leading to disruptions in supply chains and a potential retreat into self-sufficiency.

The Role of the U.S. Military

In response to the escalating threats to global shipping, the U.S. Navy recently dispatched a force of 3,000 sailors and Marines to the Strait of Hormuz. The presence of the U.S. military is expected to enhance the security of tankers and protect the interests of countries and companies involved in global shipping. The plan is reportedly to deploy armed security teams onboard merchant vessels, although the specifics of the deployments are yet to be disclosed.

Challenges in Combatting Iranian Disruption

The Revolutionary Guards pose a significant challenge to efforts aimed at countering Iranian disruption in the Strait of Hormuz. Their professionalism, knowledge of maritime procedures, and aggressive tactics make them a formidable adversary. The escalation of Iranian harassment tactics necessitates innovative and effective strategies to prevent further attacks and ensure the safety of merchant vessels. However, finding a balance between deterrence and avoiding armed confrontation with Iran remains a complex challenge.

The Need for More International Involvement

While the U.S. Navy’s deployment is a positive step towards ensuring the security of global shipping, the scope of the challenge exceeds any one nation’s capabilities. More international involvement is necessary to address the threats posed by Iranian disruption effectively. Free-trading nations such as Greece, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Germany, which have a significant stake in global shipping, should play a more active role in protecting merchant vessels. In addition, flag-of-convenience states, under whose flags most vessels operate, need to contribute coordinated efforts to ensure the safety of shipping in international waters.

The Role of Flag-of-Convenience States

Flag-of-convenience states, such as Panama, which is the world’s largest shipping nation, play a crucial role in global shipping. However, they face limitations in dispatching their own protection flotillas. The inability of these states to provide adequate security for their flagged vessels underscores the need for international cooperation and assistance. Flag-of-convenience states should work closely with other nations to develop strategies and initiatives to counter Iranian harassment and protect merchant vessels.

Uncertainty in Responding to Iranian Harassment

Responding to Iranian harassment in international waters involves navigating various uncertainties. It is unclear how the U.S. Navy, or any other force, can effectively deter Iranian disruption without risking armed conflict with the Islamic Republic. Iran, along with other adversarial states like Russia and China, operates within a gray zone between war and peace, allowing them to engage in disruptive activities without facing significant consequences. As a result, finding effective response strategies that deter harassment and ensure the safety of merchant vessels remains a challenge for the international community.


The ongoing jousting between Iran and the international community in international waters, particularly the Strait of Hormuz, poses significant threats and challenges to global shipping. The attacks on merchant vessels in the strait, as well as the surrounding Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, highlight the need for enhanced security measures and international cooperation. Protecting the safety and stability of global shipping requires the involvement of multiple nations, flag-of-convenience states, and the development of innovative strategies to address Iranian harassment effectively. Failure to act decisively risks disruptions in global trade and reinforces the message that nation-states can attack ships without consequences.