Five boats believed to belong to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards approached a British oil tanker in the Gulf on Wednesday and asked it to stop in Iranian waters, but withdrew after a British warship gave warning to back away, according to two US officials.
“The Royal Navy HMS Montrose, which was also there, pointed its guns at the boats and warned them over radio, at which point they dispersed,” one of the officials with the knowledge of the incident told Reuters news agency.
“It was harassment and an attempt to interfere with the passage,” the other official said.
The United States‘s officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Wednesday’s incident happened as British Heritage was at the northern entrance of the Strait of Hormuz – through which a fifth of world’s oil is shipped.
The US military confirmed the incident in a statement but declined to share any further details of the incident that comes a week after an Iranian oil tanker believed to be headed to Syria was seized by British Royal Marines off Gibraltar.
Tensions in the region
“We are aware of the reports of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp Navy’s FAC/FIAC harassment and attempts to interfere with the passage of the UK-flagged merchant vessel British Heritage today near the Strait of Hormuz,” the US military’s Central Command said in a statement.
“We refer you the UK Ministry of Defence for further information on this,” it said.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence had no immediate comment.
Tensions between Iran and the US and its allies have risen sharply since Washington withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal last year.
Since then the Trump administration has stepped up economic sanctions against Iran and moved to bring the country’s oil exports to zero as part of a “maximum pressure” policy to make Iran halt actions that it said undermined regional security.
Iran has responded to the sanctions by starting to breach limits put on its nuclear activities under the nuclear deal with world powers.
Tehran says its latest measures were within the framework of the deal and dubbed the US sanctions “economic terrorism”.
Iran squeezed by sanctions has delivered threats to disrupt oil flow through the strategic Strait. Last year a Revolutionary Guards commander had threatened to block all exports through the Strait if their exports were stopped.
Last month, Iran shot down a US drone near the Strait of Hormuz, prompting Trump to order retaliatory air strikes, only to call them off.
On Tuesday, the US said it was working to form a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen.
Al Jazeera and news agencies
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