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The British Royal Navy has fended off the attempted seizure of a British oil tanker by Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf, in an apparent tit-for-tat response to the arrest of one of Iran’s own vessels.

The British Heritage, owned by BP Shipping and registered to the Isle of Man, was crossing into the Strait of Hormuz area when it was approached by three Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps boats.

The Iranians ordered the vessel to stop in nearby Iranian territorial waters, CNN reported, citing two US officials with direct knowledge of the incident. A US aircraft flying overhead filmed the incident, the broadcaster said.

The Guards boats withdrew after HMS Montrose, a Royal Navy frigate which had been escorting the tanker, aimed its guns on the Iranians and warned them to move away, according to CNN.

Iran on Thursday threatened retaliation for the recent seizure of an Iranian tanker by the Royal Navy in Gibraltar. “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.”

Iran also denied it had impeded a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

“There has been no confrontation in the last 24 hours with any foreign vessels, including British ones,” the Revolutionary Guards said in a statement.

A Ministry of Defence 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.”

It was reported earlier that HMS Montrose, a Type-23 frigate, was in the region to safeguard  another British oil tanker in the region, the Pacific Voyager.

A spokesman for BP, which operates the British Heritage tanker, said: “Our top priority is the safety and security of our crews and vessels. While we are not commenting on these events, we thank the Royal Navy for their support.”

It is understood the ship was not carrying cargo.

Tensions have escalated between the UK and Iran over the Royal Marines’ seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar last Thursday.

The Islamic Republic had warned there would be a response to the seizure of the Grace 1, with President Hassan Rouhani saying on Wednesday that Britain “will realise the consequences later.”

Mr Rouhani called the seizure of the vessel, which was bound for Syria and accused of flouting EU sanctions, “mean and wrong” during a Cabinet meeting.

He warned London: “You are an initiator of insecurity and you will understand its repercussions,” without elaborating.

An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander threatened on Friday to seize a British ship in retaliation.

Iran denies the vessel was headed to Banyas refinery in Syria, where the government of President Bashar al-Assad is an ally of Tehran.

The Pacific Voyager, an Isle of Man-flagged oil tanker, and the British Heritage had been sheltering off the coast of Saudi Arabia this weekamid fears they would be seized in retaliation.

The British Heritage was due to dock in the Iraqi city of Basra on the weekend but made an unexpected U-turn.

The British-flagged ship, able to hold more than one million barrels of oil, was contracted by Royal Dutch Shell to collect the crude and deliver it to northwest Europe but the order was cancelled.

The latest reported incident comes after Iran said it had lost patience with perceived inaction by European countries more than a year after US President Donald Trump withdrew the US out of a 2015 agreement curbing Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Washington has since 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 2015 pact.

Several oil tankers were attacked in waters near Iran’s southern coast in May and June, for which the United States blamed Iran. Tehran denied any involvement.

Last month, Iran shot down a US drone near the Strait of Hormuz, prompting Mr Trump to order retaliatory air strikes, only to call them off.

Source: The Telegraph