Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps boats attempted to seize a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, CNN reported, amid heightened tensions in the region. Iran denied the report.
The British Heritage was crossing into the Strait of Hormuz area when the Iranian vessels approached it, demanding the tanker change course and stop in nearby Iranian territorial waters, CNN said, citing two U.S. officials. A U.S. aircraft was overhead and recorded footage of the episode, the network reported. The tanker, operated by BP Plc, is able to haul some 1 million barrels of oil.
The ship was being escorted from the rear by a U.K. Navy frigate, the HMS Montrose, which trained deck guns on the Iranian vessels and warned them to back away — which they did –according to CNN. The UK’s Sky News reported, citing an unidentified government spokesperson, the HMS Montrose was forced to ‘issue verbal warnings’ to three Iranian vessels, which then turned away.
The Revolutionary Guards said there had been no confrontation with foreign ships, including from the UK, in the past 24 hours, the semi-official Fars news reported. ‘If it receives an order to seize foreign ships, naval forces can act fast, with determination and without hesitation within the geographic scope of its mission,’ according to the news agency.
Scheduled to sail from Iraq to Europe, the British Heritage had been kept inside the Persian Gulf in recent days over concerns Iran could seize it in a tit-for-tat response to British Royal Marines’s arrest near Gilbraltar last week of a vessel hauling the Islamic Republic’s crude.
The incident comes after Iran said it had already begun enriching uranium beyond the cap set in a landmark 2015 nuclear accord with world powers, increasing pressure on European nations who want it to stick with the multi-party deal that’s been shunned by the Trump administration.
There are six vessels operating in the Persian Gulf registered to Britain, or a British Overseas Territory, and five operating under the British flag. In total, they have the capacity to transport almost 9 million barrels of crude.