Five armed boats believed to belong to Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps attempted to seize a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday, according to US media.
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 vessels. The Iranians ordered the tanker to change course and stop in nearby Iranian territorial waters, US officials told CNN. A US aircraft was overhead and recorded video of the incident.
The 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.
In a statement, the UK Ministry of Defense said that “contrary to international law, three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the Strait of Hormuz.”
“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 said. “We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region.”
The IRGC denied that it tried to stop the British tanker, the semi-official Fars news agency reported Thursday.
The incident occurred almost a week after British Royal Marines boarded an Iranian tanker, Grace 1, off Gibraltar and seized it on suspicion that it was breaking sanctions by taking oil to Syria.
Earlier on Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Britain would face “consequences” over the seizure of the Iranian tanker.
[Sources: CNN, Reuters, The Guardian]