Britain says three Iranian boats “attempted to impede” a British oil tanker in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, in a move that followed threats by Tehran that London would face consequences for the seizure of an Iranian supertanker last week.
“Contrary to international law, three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the strait of Hormuz,” said a government statement released on July 11.
The British warship, 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, urging Iran to "de-escalate the situation in the region."
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) denied trying to stop the British tanker, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on July 11.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed the British report as intended to “create tension” and "worthless," according to Fars.
The incident came almost a week after British Royal Marines boarded an Iranian tanker, the Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar and seized it over suspicions it was breaking sanctions by taking oil to Syria.
Iran has demanded the immediate release of the oil tanker. An IRGC commander threatened on July 5 to seize a British ship in retaliation.
Admiral Ali Fadavi, an IRGC commander, said on July 11 that Britain and United States would regret detaining Iran's oil tanker.
“Their action was very silly and they will certainly regret it,” he said, according to the hard-line Tasnim news agency. “Our reciprocal action will be announced."
On July 10, Iranian President Hassan Rohani warned that Britain would face "consequences" over the seizure of the Iranian tanker.
Earlier, U.S. media reported that five armed Iranian boats attempted to seize the British tanker [...] but were driven off by a Royal Navy vessel.
CNN, citing two U.S. officials, reported late on July 10 that the Iranians ordered the tanker crossing the strait to change course and stop in Iranian territorial waters nearby.
But the incident ended when the HMS Montrose, which was acting as an escort for the tanker, pointed its guns on the Iranian boats as a warning, forcing them to back off, CNN said.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, quoted by news agency RIA Novosti, said on July 11 that the “situation is very concerning” and blamed the incident on “Washington's deliberate, premeditated course to exacerbate tensions."
U.S. President Donald Trump on July 10 threatened to ratchet up sanctions on Iran and again denounced the 2015 nuclear deal Iran signed with world powers as the UN nuclear watchdog held an emergency meeting on Tehran's breach of the deal.
"Sanctions will soon be increased, substantially!" Trump said on Twitter.
Trump last year pulled the United States out of the deal, which offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for significant curbs on its sensitive nuclear activities.
Iran had been complying with the deal, but over the weekend it increased its uranium enrichment beyond limits set in the accord in an attempt to pressure European countries to find a way around U.S. sanctions.
With reporting by CNN, AFP, Reuters, dpa, and The Guardian