WASHINGTON — A U.S. Coast Guard cutter rescued six Iranian mariners from a vessel in distress in the Gulf, the second time in less than a week that the American military has come to the aid of Iranians at sea, an official said today.

The incident was another reminder of U.S. efforts to demonstrate the humanitarian value of its naval presence in the Gulf, a strategic waterway that the Iranian government has threatened to close in retaliation for international sanctions over its nuclear program.

Last Thursday, the U.S. Navy rescued 13 Iranian fishermen who had been held captive by pirates in the northern Arabian Sea, just outside the Gulf, for more than 40 days. That happened just days after Tehran warned the United States to keep its warships out of the Gulf. The fishermen were sent on their way and the 15 pirates were taken aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.

In the latest incident, Pentagon press secretary George Little said the Iranians aboard a cargo boat about 50 miles southeast of the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr used flares and flashlights to hail the cutter Monomoy at 3 a.m. local time today. The vessel’s master indicated that his engine room was flooding and “deemed not seaworthy,” Little said.

In a more detailed account, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, based in Bahrain, said two of the Iranians were rescued from the boat and four from a life raft tied to the vessel’s stern. After being fed and provided blankets and water, the Iranians were transferred to an Iranian coast guard vessel, the Naji 7.

In its written account, Naval Forces Central Command quoted the boat’s owner, identified as Hakim Hamid-Awi, as telling the Americans, “Without your help, we were dead. Thank you for all that you did for us.”

In that account, a civilian interpreter aboard the Monomoy quoted the captain of the Iranian coast guard vessel as saying he “sends his regards and thanks to our captain and all crewmembers for assisting and taking care of the Iranian sailors. Wishes us the best and thanks us for our cooperation.”

The Monomoy is assigned to a naval task force of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

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