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British warship fends off Iran boats attempting to seize oil tanker

The British frigate HMS Montrose, seen here in the Atlantic Ocean in 2018, prevented armed Iranian ships from seizing the oil tanker British Heritage as it transited into the Strait of Hormuz on July 10, 2019, according to British and U.S. officials.

UNITED KINGDOM ROYAL NAVY

By JOSHUA KARSTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 11, 2019

MANAMA, BAHRAIN — 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 “ensured the safe passage” of the tanker British Heritage, U.K. Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt said in a statement Thursday.

“I would like to thank the Royal Navy for their professionalism, which upheld international law and supported freedom of navigation through a shipping channel that is vital to global trade,” Mordaunt said.

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

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

U.S. Central Command officials said they were aware of the incident.

“Threats to international freedom of navigation require an international solution,” CENTCOM spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said in a statement.

Although Urban’s statement 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 occurred as British Heritage was approaching the northern entrance of the Strait of Hormuz.

“The Royal Navy HMS Montrose, which was also there, pointed it 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 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 in a statement carried by the semi-official Fars news agency.

However, U.S. officials said that a U.S. aircraft was overhead and recorded the incident, CNN reported Thursday. CENTCOM declined to confirm the aircraft’s presence when reached by Stars and Stripes.

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, an amphibious ready group and B-52 bombers.

Stars and Stripes reporter Chad Garland contributed to this report.

karsten.joshua@stripes.com
Twitter: @joshua_karsten

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