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The encounter between five small and apparently unarmed speedboats, each carrying a crew of two to four men, and the three US warships occurred very early on Saturday January 6, Washington time. No information was released to the public about the incident for more than 24 hours, indicating that it was not viewed initially as being very urgent.
The reason for that absence of public information on the incident for more than a full day is that it was not that different from many others in the Gulf over more than a decade. A Pentagon consultant who asked not to be identified told IPS he had spoken with officers who had experienced similar encounters with small Iranian boats throughout the 1990s, and that such incidents are "just not a major threat to the US Navy by any stretch of the imagination".
Just two weeks earlier, on December 19, the USS Whidbey Island, an amphibious warship, had fired warning shots after a small Iranian boat allegedly approached it at high speed. That incident had gone without public notice.
The release reported that the Iranian "small boats" had "maneuvered aggressively in close proximity of [sic] the Hopper [the lead ship of the three-ship convoy]." But it did not suggest that the Iranian boats had threatened the boats or that it had nearly resulted in firing on the Iranian boats.
On the contrary, the release made the US warships handling of the incident sound almost routine. "Following standard procedures," the release said, "Hopper issued warnings, attempted to establish communications with the small boats and conducted evasive maneuvering."
The release did not refer to a US ship being close to firing on the Iranian boats, or to a call threatening that US ships would "explode in a few minutes", as later stories would report, or to the dropping of objects into the path of a US ship as a potential danger.
That press release was ignored by the news media, however, because later that Monday morning, the Pentagon provided correspondents with a very different account of the episode.