Several Iranian ships from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) tried to stop a British oil tanker and its accompanying frigate as they tried to traverse international waters into the Strait of Hormuz on Wednesday.
U.S. officials familiar with the incident told CNN that Iran tried to seize the British tanker in the Persian Gulf.
At least three Iranian ships approached the British Heritage tanker as it was coming out of the Persian Gulf and heading into the Strait of Hormuz, reportedly trying to “divert the Heritage from international to Iranian waters,” according to a British Ministry of Defense official, CNN said.
Then the British HMS Montrose, which had been accompanying the Heritage from the rear, approached the Iranian ships and “got between them and issued a verbal warning to withdraw,” the official said.
The U.K. says that three Iranian ships tried to divert its oil tanker, while the U.S. says there were five, according to CNN. The U.S. also reportedly took overhead video footage of the incident from an aircraft, but that has not been released.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense in a statement said, “Contrary to international law, three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the Strait of Hormuz. 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. We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region,” CNN reported.
Iran denies that it tried to block the British oil tanker from entering Iranian waters.
The Strait of Hormuz is a major international waterway that connects the Gulf of Oman, which opens up the Indian Sea, to the Persian Gulf, or Arabian Gulf, where Iran and Saudi Arabia have large stretches of coastline. The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait also share coastlines with the Persian Gulf, and Iraq has a small coastline, as well.
This is not the first time this summer that Iran is accused of harassing ships trying to traverse into the Strait of Hormuz.
In June, two oil tankers were hit in the Gulf of Oman off the coast of Iran, one reportedly hit by a torpedo.
The Norwegian-owned Front Altair was allegedly hit by a torpedo, news outlets reported, and it was on fire in the Gulf. The Kokuka Courageous tanker also suffered damages after the suspected attack.
Iran was immediately suspected of having coordinated the hits. One of the tankers was carrying Japanese goods, and Iran and Japanese officials had just met in Tehran. The tankers were near the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most strategic, heavily trafficked waterways, where one-fifth of the world’s oil supply passes through. The attacks also took place near the location where Iran was accused of sabotaging four tankers last month.
The U.S. Navy had responded to the scene and helped evacuate the tankers.