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THE Royal Navy may send more warships to protect British tankers in the Gulf after Iran issued another threat following a tense tanker gun standoff.

The news comes after three Iranian gun boats swarmed passing oil tanker #British Heritage late on Wednesday in an illegal bid to force it into enemy waters.

The HMS Montrose was escorting the tanker when it was forced to scramble into action and warn off the Iranian vessels, it was claimed
The frigate’s 30mm guns were trained on the enemy boats as they approached the British tanker (file image)
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The HMS Montrose (pictured firing a missile on exercise in 2013) trained its guns on the Iranian ships
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The British Heritage oil tanker, pictured, was travelling through the Strait of Hormuz on Wednesday when it was approached by Iranian military boats, according to US officials[/caption]Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard tried to take control of the vessel as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz – sparking a tense standoff in the Persian Gulf, US officials revealed.

The Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose – which was escorting the tanker through the flashpoint region – was forced to sail in front of the boats.

After quickly training its 30mm deck guns on the enemy boats, deploying its Wildcat helicopter and issuing a radio warning, the Iranian boats scarpered.

INSUFFICIENT DEFENCE

Currently the UK has HMS Montrose and four minehunters in the region – insufficient numbers to shadow every British tanker passing through.

Sources said Top Brass will have to decide whether to send a Destroyer to the region to enforce international rules amid feverish tensions between Iran and the West.

Meanwhile, the Department for Transport has issued new guidance to all British-flagged commercial ships to go to a heightened state of security in the Strait of Hormuz, Sky Newsreported.

A defence source said Iranian patrol boats were “being aggressive towards them”.

While the UK is determined not to raise tensions – insiders admitted the Government must reassess its Naval footprint in the region.

A source said: “This illegal incident has sharpened minds. The Naval contribution kept in the region is kept under constant review.”

Iran has vowed to seize a British tanker after Royal Marines captured one of theirs last week off Gibraltar amid fears it was transporting oil to Syria in breach of sanctions.

Responding to the major escalation on Wednesday evening, a UK Government Spokesperson 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.”

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK would monitor the situation “very carefully”.

While Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesman said the government was “committed to maintaining freedom of navigation in accordance with international law”.

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said the government was concerned by the incident and urged the Iranian authorities to “de-escalate the situation”.

TANKER STANDOFF

According to the anonymous officials, the Montrose came up from the rear of the tanker and aimed its weapons at the Iranians – before issuing a verbal warning to get away.

One of the officials said: “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.”

The other added: “It was harassment and an attempt to interfere with the passage.”

A US aircraft was flying overhead at the time and recorded footage of the standoff, the officials said.

The attempted capture comes just days after British Royal Marines seized an Iranian crude oil supertanker off Gibraltar.

Commandos dramatically detained the Grace 1 tanker over suspicions it was carrying oil to its ally Syria in violation of EU sanctions last week.

Iran later issued a chilling threat of retaliation for last Thursday’s daring raid.

President Hassan Rouhani warned on Wednesday that the UK will suffer “consequences” for its actions.

He said: “I tell the British that they are the initiator of insecurity and you will understand its consequences later.”

And Iran’s Major General Mohammad Bagheri warned the seizure of the Grace 1 “will not go unanswered”.

Gibraltar police have recently confirmed they arrested the captain and chief officer of the detained Iranian Grace 1 supertanker and have seized documents and electronic devices from the vessel.

IRAN VOWS TO HIT BACK

A deputy commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday that Britain and the United States will regret detaining the oil tanker.

“Now an action that does not need ability but some stupidity has been carried out by them,” Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, a deputy Guards commander, said, according to Tasnim news agency.

“The American government, and also England, should not have taken action if they had made the smallest calculation,” he said.

“We had rented this ship and we carried the cargo. Their action was very silly and they will certainly regret it. Our reciprocal action will be announced.”

Confirming the Montrose standoff yesterday, a Government spokesperson urged Iran to “de-escalate the situation in the region”.

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

US official

 

The Government spokesman 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.”

Iran later accused “weak” Britain of lying about the incident in a bid to inflame tensions in the region.

Tehran’s foreign minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif appeared to deny the Islamic Republic’s boats were being confrontational.

He said: “They make a claim to create a tension that these claims are not worthwhile, and raised many claims.”

Mr Zarif also said “England” was attempting to “cover their weakness ” while blasting America for engaging in “economic terrorism” referring to the sanctions imposed on Tehran by Washington.

Initial reports from the US said that five Iranian vessels had harassed the tanker.

However, Iran has denied claims it was trying to seize the tanker.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the UK made the claims “for creating tension”.

He added: “These claims have no value.”​

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