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British warship said to have thwarted Iranian effort to seize UK tanker in Persian Gulf

British warship said to have thwarted Iranian effort to seize UK tanker in Gulf

CNN says 5 Revolutionary Guards gunships try unsuccessfully to force the tanker off course and into Iranian waters; incident comes after Iranian ship detained in Gibraltar

By TOI staff and Agencies

The HMS Montrose seen during an exercise off the coast of Oman in 2005 (Mick Storey/MOD)

The HMS Montrose seen during an exercise off the coast of Oman in 2005 (Mick Storey/MOD)

Iranian gunships on Wednesday attempted to seize a British oil tanker traveling through the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, but were foiled by a Royal Navy frigate, CNN reported.

According to the report, which cited sources in the US Pentagon, five gunships from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps surrounded the British Heritage oil tanker and tried to force it off course into Iranian territorial waters.

However, a British warship, the HMS Montrose, which was escorting the tanker in the wake of increased tensions in the area, confronted the Iranian boats and forced them away.

The Montrose trained its guns on the IRGC boats and issued a verbal warning, CNN said.

According to the report, a US aircraft overhead recorded the incident, but the US military has not yet released the video.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani had warned Britain of “consequences” on Wednesday over the detention of one of the Islamic Republic’s oil tankers off the coast of Gibraltar.

“I point out to the British that you initiated insecurity (on the seas) and you shall grasp the consequences of it later on,” Rouhani said in comments to the cabinet broadcast by state TV.

A British Royal Navy ship (L) patrols near supertanker Grace 1, which is suspected of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions, after it was detained off the coast of Gibraltar on July 4, 2019. (Jorge Guerrero/AFP)

The detention of the 330-meter (1,000-feet) Grace 1 vessel comes at a sensitive time in Iran-EU ties as the bloc mulls how to respond to Tehran announcing it breached the uranium enrichment limit it agreed to in a troubled 2015 nuclear deal.

The Grace 1 tanker was halted in the early hours of Thursday by police and customs agencies in Gibraltar, aided by a detachment of British Royal Marines.

Crew members walk on board supertanker Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar on July 6, 2019 (JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

The ship was detained 2.5 miles (four kilometers) south of Gibraltar in what the UK considers British waters, although Spain, which lays claim to the territory, says they are Spanish. It was boarded when it slowed down in a designated area used by shipping agencies to ferry goods to vessels.

“We have reason to believe that the Grace 1 was carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Banyas refinery in Syria,” Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said in a statement.

“That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell told reporters the vessel was detained at the request of the United States.

In a statement, Britain’s Foreign Office said “we welcome this firm action by the Gibraltarian authorities, acting to enforce the EU Syria Sanctions regime.”

European Union sanctions against war-torn Syria have been in force since late 2011. The 28-member bloc has imposed sanctions on Syrian officials including government ministers over their role in the “violent repression” of civilians. It has frozen the assets of around 70 entities and introduced an embargo on Syrian oil, investment restrictions and a freeze on Syrian central bank assets within the EU.

The tanker’s detention comes just days after Iran announced it would exceed the uranium enrichment limit set up as part of the 2015 deal to avoid it building up to the level required for a nuclear warhead.

Tehran took the action in response to Washington abandoning the nuclear deal last year and hitting Iran’s crucial oil exports and financial transactions with biting sanctions.

The unilateral move has sent tensions in the Gulf soaring as the administration of US President Donald Trump forges ahead with a policy of “maximum pressure” against Iran in coordination with its Middle East allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Iran tries to seize British tanker in Persian Gulf

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps unsuccessfully tries to seize British oil tanker after UK seized Iranian tanker in Gibraltar. Elad Benari

Oil tanker and rig

Oil tanker and rigiStock

Five armed boats belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps unsuccessfully tried to seize a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday, two US officials with direct knowledge of the incident told CNN.

The British Heritage tanker was sailing out of the Persian Gulf and was crossing into the Strait of Hormuz area when it was approached by the Iranian boats, according to the officials.

The Iranians ordered the tanker to change course and stop in nearby Iranian territorial waters. A US aircraft was overhead and recorded video of the incident, the two officials added.

The UK’s Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose had been escorting the tanker from the rear. It trained its deck guns on the Iranians and gave them a verbal warning to back away, which they did. Montrose is equipped on the deck with 30 mm guns specifically designed to drive off small boats.

UK officials had previously confirmed that the Montrose was in the region performing a “maritime security role.”

The incident occurred nearly a week after the British naval force seized an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar on suspicion that it was carrying crude oil to Syria, in violation of EU sanctions.

The detention of the tanker angered Iran, which condemned the move as an “illegal interception” and summoned the British ambassador in protest.

Last Friday, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander threatened to seize a British ship in retaliation for the capture of the Iranian supertanker.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned earlier Wednesday that the UK “will see the consequences” for last week’s incident.

Rouhani, speaking in a cabinet session, said, “I tell the British that they are the initiator of insecurity and you will understand its consequences later.”

Wednesday’s incident also comes a day after the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, said that the US and its allies were working to put together a coalition of countries to come up with a system to enforce freedom of navigation in the region amid what the US says are heightened threats from Iran.

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