Iranian patrol boats attempted to impede the passage of a British oil tanker through the Strait of Hormuz, according to the Ministry of Defence (MOD).
An MOD spokesperson 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 type 23 British frigate, 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 added: “We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region.”
US officials believe the boats which approached the tanker as it moved out of the Gulf into the Straits of Hormuz belong to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). HMS Montrose reportedly directed its guns at the Iranian boats as they were ordered to back off. They heeded the warning and no shots were fired.
The Iranian semi-official Fars News Agency tweeted that the IRGC “denies claims by American sources”. The AFP news agency reported that the IRGC said: “There has been no confrontation in the last 24 hours with any foreign vessels, including British ones.”
The BBC has been told that British Heritage was near the disputed island of Abu Musa when it was approached and harassed by the Iranian boats. HMS Montrose remained in international waters throughout, according to the BBC.
On Wednesday, HMS Montrose shadowed a British tanker, the Pacific Voyager, for some of the way through the Strait of Hormuz. Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s President, mocked the UK saying: “Now you are so hopeless that, when one of your tankers wants to move in the region, you have to bring your frigates [to escort it] because you are scared. Then why do you commit such acts? You should instead allow navigation to be safe.” Rouhani also threatened that there would be consequences after Royal Marines seized an Iranian oil tanker off the Straits of Gibraltar on 4 July. The Grace-1 super-tanker was believed to be heading toward Syria to deliver oil in defiance of EU sanctions.