Iran launches new navy ship as tensions rise with U.S. in Gulf

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Iran’s Revolutionary Guard launched a new 55-metre-long naval ship on Tuesday that is capable of transporting a helicopter and up to 100 men, according to the website of state TV.

The ship’s launch in the port city of Bushehr, comes at a time of high tension between Iran and the United States over Gulf waters. U.S. officials says there have been more than 30 close encounters between U.S. and Iranian vessels in the Gulf so far this year, over twice as many as in the same period of 2015.

On Sept. 4, a U.S. Navy coastal patrol ship changed course after an Iranian Revolutionary Guard fast-attack craft came within 91 meters of it in the central Gulf, at least the fourth such incident in less than a month.

“This ship increases the deterrent power of Iran and will have an effect on the calculations of the enemy, particularly America,” Revolutionary Guard naval chief Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi said at the launch, according to the state TV site.

Fadavi did not say whether the ship was equipped with any weapons capabilities. A photo posted on the state TV site showed a helicopter sitting on the top deck of the ship.

The ship was built in Bushehr by Khatam al Anbia, a huge construction and engineering firm overseen by the Guards, Fadavi said.

A banner posted on the side of the ship at the launch read, “America should go to the Bay of Pigs, the Persian Gulf is our house”, a reference to the botched U.S. attempt to overthrow Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 1961.

Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Catherine Evans