by WorldTribune Staff, July 11, 2019
The British warship HMS Montrose on July 10 trained its guns on Iranian ships which UK authorities say were impeding a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.
“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 British government statement released on July 11.
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.
The British government didn’t identify the types of Iranian vessels involved. The three Iranian ships complied with the Montrose’s warnings, British officials said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed the British report as being intended to “create tension” and “worthless,” according to Fars.
The U.S. military was aware of the incident, said Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command. “Threats to international freedom of navigation require an international solution. The world economy depends on the free flow of commerce, and it is incumbent on all nations to protect and preserve this linchpin of global prosperity.”
Observers say the UK-Iran incident could accelerate a U.S. attempt to build a coalition of nations to share the burden of protecting commercial vessels near Iranian waters.
Related: Dunford: U.S. assembling coalition to protect shipping in Persian Gulf, July 10, 2019
Military escorts in the region have a precedent, the Wall Street Journal noted. “During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the two countries attacked each other’s ships in the Gulf and Iran eventually began targeting foreign-flagged vessels. The assaults subsided when the U.S. escorted and re-flagged foreign tankers under its ensign.”
The incident “could also further rattle the oil market and destabilize shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a third of the world’s seaborne crude moves from countries such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” the Wall Street Journal noted.
Iran had threatened to retaliate after the UK seized the Iranian ship off the coast of Gibraltar, with one senior Iranian official suggesting seizing a British ship in the Persian Gulf.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on July 10 warned the UK, according to Iran’s Press TV. “You are the ones initiating insecurity and will come to realize its consequences in the future.”
On July 11, Gen. Ali Fadavi, a deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said the UK and U.S. “will regret” detaining the ship carrying Iranian cargo, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.
“If the enemies would have done the smallest calculation, they would not have taken such action,” Fadavi said. He didn’t comment on the UK’s allegations that Iranian vessels tried to block the British Heritage’s passage through the Persian Gulf a day earlier.
The British Heritage carries oil for British oil giant BP PLC.
BP is a partner in the development of Iraq’s Rumaila, the world’s third-largest producing field, and it shipped around 50,000 barrels a day of Iraqi oil in 2018, via the Strait of Hormuz.
“We’ve just got to be really careful about our ships,” BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley said in relation to Iran’s threats.