Capturing the Iran Ajr

The Iran Ajr, formerly known as the Arya Rakhsh, was a Japanese-built amphibious landing ship used by Iran to lay naval mines during the Iran-Iraq War. The 614-ton, 54-meter ship was the focus of one of the most dramatic moments of Operation Prime Chance, which was the secret portion of Operation Earnest Will, which was the mission to protect U.S.-flagged petroleum-carrying ships in the Persian Gulf.

On 21 September 1987, U.S. forces tracked the ship as it left Iranian waters. Army helicopters were dispatched from their secret perch aboard the Navy guided missile frigate Jarrett (FFG 33) to shadow it. When the aviators reported that people aboard the Iran Ajr were laying mines, the U.S. commander in the Persian Gulf ordered the Army pilots to “stop the mining.” The helicopters fired on the ship, killing some of the mariners and chasing others into the water. Navy SEAL commandos later boarded the ship, confirmed the presence of mines, and detained the surviving Iranians.

On 26 September, the SEALs scuttled the ship in international waters. The detainees were later transferred “in the dead of night” to an Iranian C-130 airlifter at an Omani airfield, according to a 22 July 1992 article in Newsweek.

When the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) struck a mine the following April, Navy explosive ordnance specialists matched the serial numbers of nearby unexploded mines to the ones aboard the Iran Ajr. This evidence of Iranian involvement in theRoberts mining led to the biggest surface-warfare battle since World War II, the retribution campaign of 18 April 1988 called Operation Praying Mantis.

U.S. NAVY PHOTOS BY PH3 HENRY CLEVELAND, EXCEPT AS NOTED.

A port quarter view of the captured Iranian minelaying ship Iran Ajr on 22 September 1987 during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

arrow up to photoA port quarter view of the captured Iranian minelaying ship Iran Ajr on 22 September 1987.

Port view of <i>Iran Ajr</i> during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will. Mines are visible on deck.

arrow up to photoPort view of Iran Ajr. Mines are visible on deck.

U.S. Navy sailors board the <i>Iran Ajr</i> on 22 September from a U.S. Navy landing craft off the command ship USS <i>La Salle</i> during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

arrow up to photoU.S. Navy sailors board the Iran Ajr on 22 September from a U.S. Navy landing craft off the command ship USS La Salle.

An aerial port view of the Iran Ajr with the La Salle's U.S. landing craft alongside. The Iran Ajr was captured during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

arrow up to photoAn aerial port view of the Iran Ajr with the La Salle’s U.S. landing craft alongside.

M-08 contact mines partially covered by a tarpaulin on the deck of the Iran Ajr, which was captured during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

arrow up to photoM-08 contact mines partially covered by a tarpaulin on the deck of the Iran Ajr.

M-08 mines on the Iran Ajr, captured during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

arrow up to photoM-08 mines, close up.

Sailors on a U.S. Navy Mark 3 patrol boat prepare to pull Iranians from the water during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

arrow up to photoSailors on a U.S. Navy Mark 3 patrol boat prepare to pull Iranians from the water.

 during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

arrow up to photoTwo Mark 3 patrol boats pull alongside a life raft from the Iran Ajr.

Mark 3 patrol boat next to a life raft during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

arrow up to photoMark 3 patrol boat next to a life raft.

An armed sailor aboard the amphibious transport dock USS Raleigh (LPD 1) escorts an Iranian detainee from the Iran Ajr during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

arrow up to photoAn armed sailor aboard the amphibious transport dock USS Raleigh (LPD 1) escorts an Iranian detainee from the Iran Ajr.

An armed sailor aboard the amphibious transport dock USS Raleigh (LPD 1) escorts an Iranian detainee  during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

Armed sailor saboard the amphibious transport dock USS Raleigh (LPD 1) escort Iranian detainees during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

arrow up to photoArmed crew members aboard the amphibious transport dock USS Raleigh (LPD 1) escort Iranian detainees from the Iran Ajrto a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter.

An Iranian detainee from the Iran Ajr receives medical treatment from U.S. sailors during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

arrow up to photoAn Iranian detainee from the Iran Ajr receives medical treatment from U.S. sailors. U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY PH2 SHEPHARD

An armed sailor aboard the amphibious transport dock USS Raleigh (LPD 1) escorts an Iranian detainee from the Iran Ajr, which was captured during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

arrow up to photoAn armed sailor aboard the amphibious transport dock USS Raleigh (LPD 1) escorts an Iranian detainee from the Iran Ajr.

Sailors aboard <i>Raleigh</i> escort Iranian detainees to a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter. The Iranians were captured during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

arrow up to photoSailors aboard Raleigh escort Iranian detainees to a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter.

Aboard the amphibious assault ship USS <i>Guadalcanal</i> (LPH 7), detainees wearing helicopter headgear and hearing protection are escorted to waiting helicopters for transport to the <i>La Salle</i> during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

arrow up to photoAboard the amphibious assault ship USS Guadalcanal (LPH 7), detainees wearing helicopter headgear and hearing protection are escorted to waiting helicopters for transport to the La Salle.

Iranian detainees assemble on the <i>La Salle's</i> flight deck

arrow up to photoIranian detainees assemble on the La Salle’s flight deck.

Detainees file from the <i>La Salle's</i> flight deck during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

arrow up to photoDetainees file from the La Salle’s flight deck.

Waiting aboard the <i>La Salle</i> during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

arrow up to photoWaiting aboard the La Salle.

Detainees in cots aboard the La Salle during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.Detainees in cots aboard the La Salle during Operation Prime Chance, a part of the U.S. Navy's Operation Earnest Will.

arrow up to photoDetainees in cots aboard the La Salle.