Iran demands that Britain immediately releases oil tanker seized last week and warns: ‘This is a dangerous game that has consequences’
- Iran’s foreign ministry said the release of the ship was ‘in all countries’ interest’
- Tehran has threatened to retaliate after the supertanker was seized last week
- Yesterday Britain said a Royal Navy warship confronted blocking Iranian vessels
Iran has demanded the release of an oil tanker which was seized by British Royal Marines off Gibraltar last week.
Tehran’s foreign ministry said Britain’s capture of the Grace 1 supertanker was ‘not valid’ and insisted the release of the ship was ‘in all countries’ interest’.
‘This is a dangerous game and has consequences’, a spokesman warned.
Iran has threatened to retaliate and the tense Middle East stand-off worsened yesterday when Britain said Iranian vessels had tried to block a UK-flagged tanker in the Straits of Hormuz.
Iran has demanded the release the supertanker Grace 1 (pictured off the coast of Gibraltar last week) after it was seized by British Royal Marines
The Ministry of Defence said three Iranian vessels had tried to block the British Heritage but backed off after they were confronted by the Royal Navy warship HMS Montrose.
The Montrose ‘was forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessel,’ Britain said.
Tehran denied its vessels had done any such thing.
The UK raised its security level for British shipping sailing in Iranian waters to its highest level, level three, meaning an incident is considered to be imminent.
Vessels have been advised to take enhanced security measures and to avoid transiting through Iranian waters if at all possible.
As well as the Montrose, the Navy has four mine countermeasures vessels and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Cardigan Bay logistics ship in the region.
With typically between 15 and 30 British-flagged merchant ships in Gulf waters on any one day, providing individual escorts has been ruled out.
The Middle East stand-off worsened yesterday when Britain said Iranian vessels had tried to block UK-flagged tanker British Heritage (file photo) in the Straits of Hormuz
The British government said HMS Montrose, a Type 23 frigate, positioned itself between the Iranian boats and the tanker and ordered them to back down
The latest crisis erupted when British authorities intercepted the supertanker Grace 1 eight days ago, saying it was violating EU sanctions by carrying a shipment of Iranian crude oil to Syria.
A detachment of Royal Marines from 42 Commando boarded the vessel off Gibraltar in a joint operation with the Royal Gibraltar Police.
Gibraltar’s government said tests showed the supertanker was fully loaded with crude oil.
But Iran has insisted that the tanker was not headed for Syria.
Tankers in the Gulf have already come under attack in recent weeks, in explosions which Britain and America have blamed on Iran.
A UAE investigation found four mysterious sabotage attacks on May 12 were linked to a ‘state actor’ but did not name Iran.
The attacks were carried out with limpet mines and were ‘part of a sophisticated and coordinated operation’, the report found.
Operation: British Royal Marines taking part in the seizure of the Iranian oil tanker in the early hours of last Thursday morning
The tanker attacks inflamed an already tense Middle East stand-off and prompted the U.S. to bolster its military presence in the region.
Matters worsened just four weeks later when another two ships were hit by explosions in the Gulf of Oman.
Forty-four sailors were forced to abandon their ships amid a huge fireball on the MT Front Altair and another blast on the Kokuka Courageous.
America again blamed Iran, releasing a video which purported to show Iranian revolutionary guard forces removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the ships.
The row also comes amid heightening Middle East tensions after Iran yesterday threatened to move further away from its 2015 nuclear deal.
Tehran said on Monday that it could restart deactivated centrifuges and ramp up enrichment of uranium to 20 per cent.
But Major General Hossein Salami, the head of the Revolutionary Guards, denied Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapon.