Three Iranian vessels tried to block a BP-operated tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz but backed off when confronted by a Royal Navy warship, the UK government said yesterday.
Britain urged Iran to “de-escalate the situation in the region” after the British Heritage, a Suezmax oil tanker operated by BP under an Isle of Man flag, was approached.
“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,” a British government spokesman said in a statement.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif however dismissed as “worthless” UK allegations that Iran had sought to block the British Heritage, the semi-official Fars news agency said.
The incident followed President Donald Trump’s warning he would soon “substantially” increase US sanctions on Iran as part of a drive to curb Iran’s nuclear program and force Tehran to change its regional behaviour.
The United States blames Iran for a series of attacks on shipping in the world’s most important oil artery since mid-May, accusations Tehran rejects but which have raised fears the long-time foes could slip into direct military conflict.
The growing confrontation between Iran and the West took another twist last week when British Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker, the Grace 1, off Gibraltar on suspicion that it was breaking EU sanctions by taking oil to Syria.
A senior military commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards yesterday said Britain and the United States would regret detaining the vessel, just days after the armed forces chief of staff said the action would not go unanswered.