British warship fends off Iran boats attempting to seize oil tanker

A British frigate prevented three Iranian patrol boats from stopping a British tanker as it was entering the Strait of Hormuz, British and U.S. defense officials said Thursday.

HMS Montrose maneuvered between the three fast boats — believed to belong to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps — and the tanker British Heritage near the island of Abu Musa on Wednesday. The Iranian vessels turned away after “verbal warnings” from the frigate, said a U.K. government statement cited by the BBC.

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

U.S. Central Command spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said the military was aware of the incident and that “threats to international freedom of navigation require an international solution.”

Although Urban did not specifically comment on the details of the incident, he added that “the world economy depends on the free flow of commerce, and it is incumbent on all nations to protect and preserve this lynchpin of global prosperity.”

Other U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Wednesday’s incident occured as British Heritage was approaching the northern entrance of the Strait of Hormuz.

“The Royal Navy HMS Montrose, which was also there, pointed its guns at the boats and warned them over radio, at which point they dispersed,” said a U.S. official quoted by The Associated Press.

“It was harassment and an attempt to interfere with the passage,” another official said, according to the AP.

One-fifth of the world’s oil and 90 percent of Persian Gulf oil is transported through the Strait.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard denied on Thursday that its vessels had tried to seize the tanker. “There have been no encounters with foreign vessels, including the British ones,” the force said a statement carried by the semi-official Fars news agency.

The incident comes a week after British marines seized an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar on suspicion of violating sanctions and transporting oil to Syria.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that Britain would face “consequences” over the seizure of the Iranian tanker.

The incident adds to the escalating tensions between Iran and allied nations operating in the Persian Gulf. Washington has strengthened its sanctions against Tehran and sent additional troops and assets to the region, including a carrier strike group, amphibious readiness group and several B-52 bombers.

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