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Iran Accused of Interfering With Commercial Ships' Navigation System

Oil tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz. File photo

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration and the central command of U.S. forces in the region (CENTCOM), have warned against hacking and infiltration of navigation systems (GPS) of commercial vessels in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman.

The MARAD (Maritime Administration) warned that "Vessels operating in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Gulf of Oman may encounter GPS interference, … and/or other communications jamming with little to no warning."

Apparently, Iran is trying to jam the GPS systems of commercial vessels to lead them to make a mistake and enter its territorial waters.

The region mentioned in the MARAD statement has been the scene of attacks on oil tankers, and detention of commercial vessels in recent months as tensions between Iran and the United States have risen.

According to Maritime Administration several incidents have occurred in the region since May. These include six attacks against commercial vessels, shoot-down of U.S. Navy remotely piloted aircraft over international waters, attempted at-sea interdiction of Isle of Man-flagged M/V British Heritage, seizure of ex-Panama-flagged M/V Riah, seizure of U.K.-flagged M/V Stena Impero, and the detention and subsequent release of Liberian-flagged M/V Mesdar.

The maritime Administration further warned that heightened military activity and increased political tensions in this region continue to pose serious threats to commercial vessels, adding that there is also a potential for miscalculation or misidentification that could lead to aggressive actions.

Based on the statement, at least in two of these incidents interference with the GPS system was reported, while in another case, the Automatic Identification System (AIS) of the ship was shut off before it was seized, complicating response efforts.

Meanwhile, CENTCOM has said in a statement that some ships have reported interferences in their GPS system.

Elsewhere in the statement, CENTCOM stressed that the United States will continue cooperation with its allies to protect freedom of navigation in the region.

CNN has quoted an unnamed U.S. defense official as saying that Iran has interfered with the navigation system of vessels and civilian aircraft to lure them into its airspace or territorial waters, and give Iranian military forces a pretext to detain them.

In some cases, vessels have received messages that had been tampered with, in order to pretend they were coming from U.S. or Coalition ships, the official said.

The warnings are given while the United States and its allies are forming a coalition to protect the freedom of shipping in the waters South of Iran as a measure to confront with the rising tensions in the region.

Tehran has still not reacted to statements by CENTCOM and U.S. Maritime Administration. However, previously, Iran had dismissed charges of attacking oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman.

Instead, Tehran has offered alternative reasons for detaining oil tankers in the Persian Gulf during recent weeks. They said a detained British-flagged ship was seized after an alleged "collision with an Iranian vessel," and for "violating international maritime regulations."

In an apparent contradiction, the Speaker of Iran's Parliament, Ali Larijani linked the seizure of the UK-flagged ship to the detention of an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar.