World

Britain says its warship had to warn off Iran military vessels

LONDON : Britain said yesterday that Iranian military vessels tried to "impede the passage" of a British oil tanker but were warned off by a British warship in a dramatic escalation of tensions with Teheran in the Gulf.

The incident in the Strait of Hormuz occurred on Wednesday after US President Donald Trump ramped up his administration's pressure further by warning that sanctions against Iran would be "increased substantially" soon.

CNN had reported that Iranian boats attempted to seize the British tanker but were driven off by a Royal Navy frigate. The British Defence Ministry said the Iranian boats tried to "impede" a commercial vessel, British Heritage, owned by British energy giant BP.

"Contrary to international law, three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the Strait of Hormuz," it said in a statement.

"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."

It also urged "the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region".

Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps - a powerful security organisation the US blames for staging several tanker attacks since May - denied trying to seize or impede the tanker.

"There has been no confrontation in the last 24 hours with any foreign vessels, including British ones," the Revolutionary Guard Corps said in a statement.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday warned Britain of "consequences" over last week's detention of one of its oil tankers off Gibraltar.

Officials in Gibraltar - a British overseas territory - said the cargo was believed to be destined for Syria.

Damascus is subject to European Union sanctions while the US has its own sets of trade restrictions on Iranian oil.

Iran condemned the detention as an "illegal interception". Britain has denied suggestions from Gibraltar officials that it was acting on the orders of the US. - AFP

WORLD