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Iranian boats attempted to 'impede the passage' of British oil tanker in Gulf, UK govt says

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has denied the allegations.

File photo - HMS Montrose
File photo - HMS Montrose
Image: Steve Parsons via PA Images

THREE IRANIAN SHIPS have attempted to “impede the passage” of a British oil tanker in Gulf waters, forcing a UK frigate to intervene, the British government has said.

“Contrary to international law, three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the Strait of Hormuz,” the UK government said.

“HMS Montrose was forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels.”

The Iranian vessels only turned away after receiving “verbal warnings” from a UK navy vessel accompanying the commercial vessel British Heritage, the UK added.

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

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has denied the allegations, saying if it had received orders to seize any ships it would have executed them immediately.

The semi-official Fars news agency carried a statement from the Guard’s navy this morning saying “there were no clashes with alien boats, especially English boats”.

Last week’s seizure

The incident has been reported a day after Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, warned that Britain will face “repercussions” over the seizure of an Iranian supertanker last week that authorities in Gibraltar suspect was breaching European sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.

Rouhani was quoted by Iranian state media as saying the seizure was “mean and wrong”.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied the supertanker belonged to Iran, saying whoever owned the oil shipment and the vessel could pursue the case through legal avenues.

Iran had earlier summoned the British ambassador over what it called the “illegal interception” of the ship.

It marked the latest escalation of tensions in the Persian Gulf over the nuclear deal.

Since Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord, the restoration of heavy sanctions on Iran, including its oil industry, has exacerbated an economic crisis that has sent the currency plummeting.

The US has meanwhile sent thousands of troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Middle East.

Fears are growing of a wider conflict after mysterious oil tanker attacks near the Strait of Hormuz blamed on Iran, attacks by Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen on Saudi Arabia, and Iran’s downing of a US military drone.

So far, the remaining parties to the nuclear deal — Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and the EU — have been unable to meet Tehran’s demands for enough economic assistance to offset the American sanctions.

Includes reporting by Associated Press and © AFP 2019

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