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Iranian boats 'attempted to impede' British oil tanker in strait of Hormuz

Iranian boats 'attempted to impede' British oil tanker in strait of Hormuz
11 July 2019

UK government spokesman says three Iranian boats were warned off by HMS Montrose, but Tehran denies involvement

Three Iranian boats have “attempted to impede” a British oil tanker in the Gulf on Wednesday, further deepening tensions in the vital shipping channel off Iran.

The incident took place in the strait of Hormuz through which the commercial vessel, British Heritage, was attempting to pass.

“Contrary to international law, three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the strait of Hormuz,” a UK government statement released on Thursday morning said.

The British warship, HMS Montrose was “forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, which then turned away,” the statement said.

“We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards rejected the claim that they tried to stop the British tanker, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

US defence officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, had earlier told Reuters that the incident happened at the northern entrance of the strait of Hormuz.

“The Royal Navy HMS Montrose, which was also there, pointed it(s) guns at the boats and warned them over radio, at which point they dispersed,” one of the officials said.

“It was harassment and an attempt to interfere with the passage,” another official said.

A spokesman for US central command, Captain Bill Urban, said: “We are aware of the reports of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp Navy’s FAC/FIAC harassment and attempts to interfere with the passage of the UK-flagged merchant vessel British Heritage today near the strait of Hormuz.”

“Threats to international freedom of navigation require an
international solution.”

CNN reported that a US surveillance aircraft recorded video of the incident. It said the HMS Montrose, which was escorting the oil tanker, trained its guns on the IRG boats and issued a verbal warning.

On Wednesday Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, warned the UK it would face unspecified consequences as a result of the UK’s seizure of an oil tanker bound for Syria off the coast of Gibraltar last week. The ship remains in British possession.

Rouhani was quoted by the Iranian official IRNA news agency calling the seizure of the Iranian oil ship “mean and wrong”. During a cabinet meeting he warned London: “You are an initiator of insecurity and you will understand its repercussions.”

Last week a former leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said the Islamic Republic should consider seizing a British oil tanker.

Mohsen Rezaei, who led the Guard during Iran’s 1980s “tanker war” in the Persian Gulf, made the comments the day after nearly 30 Royal Marines were deployed to impound the oil tanker Grace 1.

“If England does not release the Iranian oil tanker, the duty ... [of Iran] is to respond and seize one English oil tanker,” Rezaei said on Friday.

Tehran has been accused of sabotaging oil tankers in the strait of Hormuz in an attempt at economic retaliation against the US after Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal and imposed sanctions on Iran.