How the Filipino Monkey almost brought the U.S. into war with Iran

If you’re aboard a Navy ship and hear a mysterious voice over the radio taunting you with threats in broken English, you very well may be bearing witness to some serious “monkey business.”

With a rich and established history of monkeying things up, the “Filipino Monkey” is a reference to VHF radio nuisances in the Persian Gulf, some nearly responsible for causing potential global conflicts over the past thirty years.

The Monkeys reportedly make odd, threatening or confusing radio calls on VHF Marine Channel 16, the standard VHF (Very High Frequency) calling and distress channel, which -at least before the advent of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System- had to be monitored by sailors at all times.

One of the first accounts of the Filipino Monkey came about in 1988, when US Warships protecting Kuwaiti tankers would hear odd transmissions over the airwaves.

“From time to time, the radio squawked, breaking the quiet with a burst of static. Most of the messages were fully routine, the expected traffic in a crowded sea,” read the account, an excerpt from Bradley Peniston’s No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf. “But every so often a high manic voice would break from the speaker: “Hee hee hee! Filipino Monkey!” No one knew who the caller was, or what he meant by his strange message.”

Former USS Hue City skipper Rick Hoffman recalled the Monkey in a Military Times article.

“For 25 years there’s been this mythical guy out there who, hour after hour, shouts obscenities and threats,” he said. “He could be tied up pierside somewhere or he could be on the bridge of a merchant ship.”

While many believe the term “Filipino Monkey” was initially a disparaging term for Filipino laborers that flocked the Middle East in the 1980s, the title has become synonymous with radio trolls, who make it their life’s mission to cause trouble on a radio wave that has a guaranteed audience.

“He used to go all night long. The guy is crazy,” Hoffman said. “But who knows how many Filipino Monkeys there are? Could it have been a spurious transmission? Absolutely.”

Around 20 years later, the Monkey returned to harass American warships- but this time, it nearly started a war.

Following the terrorist attack on the USS Cole a few years prior, the US Navy became rather wary of high-speed watercraft- something the Iranian military units patrolling the Strait of Hormuz are known for.

During routine operations on January 6 of 2008, three US Warships -the USS Port Royal, the USS Hopper and the USS Ingraham- were approached by five Iranian patrol boats while in international waterways within the strait.

While both Iran and the US published film of the incident, the situation at the time was not as clear. In an attempt to raise the Iranian gunboats and advise them to steer clear of American warships, the crew of the Hopper heard a chilling message.

“I am coming at you,” a voice said over the radio. “You will explode in [garbled] minutes.”

A tense standoff ensued, with then-Hopper commander Captain Jeffrey James holding his nerve in order to prevent bloodshed until it was absolutely necessary.

“We stepped through our measured procedures to let the boats know who we were and what we were doing, and that we perceived their actions as threatening,” James said of the incident, a week or so after it had transpired. “We gave them the opportunity to break off, so that we didn’t have to go the ultimate, which would have been deadly force.”

Fortunately, no volleys were fired and the incident was only an international brawl over TV news channels across the world.

It was only after the pieces of the puzzle could be fit together did the most possible explanation for the ominous transmission began to take form- the “Filipino Monkey” had struck again.

Some American mariners say that the “Monkey” frequently insults US Navy ships in the Gulf, often causing problems for American sailors in the area.

“They just kind of chatter on the radio incessantly and try to provoke a reaction from other people listening to the radio, or generally kind of harass other mariners,” commercial seaman Michael Burns told NPR in 2007. “I have heard derogatory remarks made about the US Navy while in that area, or rival fishermen- really, whatever happens to strike their particular source of amusement.”

Since the VHF radio signals can be broadcast over a distance of 80 miles and are hard to pinpoint in congested areas, we may never know who sent the menacing message to the Hopper. Since the incident itself is over a decade old, the 2008 Gulf of Hormuz incident shows that even a troll with a radio can throw a monkey wrench into a tense situation- and nearly end the world as we know it.

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