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UK Says Iranian Boats Tried to Block British Vessel, IRGC Denies

UK Says Iranian Boats Tried to Block British Vessel, IRGC Denies

Thursday, 11 July, 2019 - 07:00
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian national flag flutters during the opening ceremony of the 16th International Oil, Gas & Petrochemical Exhibition (IOGPE) in Tehran April 15, 2011. Reuters
Asharq Al-Awsat
Britain said Thursday that several Iranian vessels unsuccessfully tried to impede the passage of a British commercial vessel through the Strait of Hormuz.

The Iranian vessels only turned away after receiving "verbal warnings" from a UK navy vessel accompanying the commercial vessel British Heritage, the UK government said in a statement. "We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region," it said.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard denied the allegations, saying if it had received orders to seize any ships it would have executed them immediately.

A statement from the Guard's navy early Thursday said "there were no clashes with alien boats, especially English boats."

The UK defense ministry said three Iranian boats tried to "impede the passage" a commercial vessel called British Heritage. The 274-meter (899-foot) tanker is owned by the British energy giant BP and can carry a million barrels of oil.

"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 ministry statement said.

"We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region," a Downing Street spokesman said.

UK defense sources told British media that the Revolutionary Guards boats attempted to first stop and then divert the supertanker towards the Iranian shore.

The UK warship then trained its guns on the Iranian boats and delivered a "cease and desist" message by radio.

CNN reported that a US surveillance aircraft captured video footage of the episode from above.

The incident was reported a day after Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, warned that Britain will face "repercussions" over the seizure of an Iranian supertanker last week that authorities in Gibraltar suspect was breaching European sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.

The seizure was "mean and wrong," Rouhani was quoted as saying.

The Gibraltar police brushed aside the warning and announced the arrest on Thursday of both the Indian captain and officer of the seized Iranian tanker.

And President Donald Trump raised the US pressure by tweeting on Wednesday that sanctions against Iran over its stepped-up nuclear activities would be "increased substantially" soon.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied the supertanker belonged to Iran, saying whoever owned the oil shipment and the vessel could pursue the case through legal avenues.

On Thursday, he said Britain's claim that Iran tried to stop one of their oil tankers in the Gulf is worthless.

"Apparently the British tanker has passed. What they have said themselves and the claims that have been made are for creating tension and these claims have no value," Zarif said.

A British security source said London had already raised its threat warning level for British ships in Iranian waters to the highest possible category earlier this week, although it did not plan to escort every British-flagged vessel through the strait.

Britain would defend its maritime interests but was not trying to escalate the situation with Iran, the source said.

China called on all sides to avoid raising tensions in the Arabian Gulf. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing hopes the parties involved can "maintain cool and restraint" and safeguard peace and stability in the Gulf region.

Geng told reporters that China, a huge customer for oil and gas shipped through the Hormuz Strait, recognizes the influence events in the region can have on the stability of the global supply of resources.

The Kremlin called on "all parties" to show restraint and settle their disputes by negotiations.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that "freedom of navigation should be ensured in the Arabian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz," which he said is crucial for the global economy.

According to French armed forces chief Francois Lecointre, tensions in the Gulf are unlikely to spiral out of control.

"There is a clash of wills underway between the United States and Iran with posturing, reactions, signals and which can from one day to the next get out of control," Lecointre told CNews television.

"I think it is under control now... I don't think it can spiral out of control but there can be escalation," he added.

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