Iran has demanded the immediate release of the oil tanker seized by Royal Marines off the coast of Gibraltar, warning Britain: “This is a dangerous game and has consequences.”
It comes as tensions mount in the Gulf after a Royal Navy warship deterred Iranian patrol boats attempting to impede a British tanker sailing through the Strait of Hormuz.
The Iranian supertanker – the Grace 1 – was seized last week after it was suspected of taking crude oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.
Calling for its release, a spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry told the state news agency IRNA: “This is a dangerous game and has consequences.
“The legal pretexts for the capture are not valid… the release of the tanker is in all countries’ interest.”
The UK government said on Thursday that three Iranian vessels tried to block a British-owned tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz, which controls the flow of Middle East oil to the world, but backed off when confronted by HMS Montrose.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard denied claims of a confrontation, saying if it had received orders to seize any ships it would have executed them immediately.
Sky News understands British ships have been warned to keep alert for Iranian patrol boats “being aggressive towards them”.
Some 15 to 30 British-flagged tankers and other large ships are in the Persian Gulf on a daily basis. Between one and three pass through the Strait of Hormuz every 24 hours.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he will add more warships to Britain’s fleet if he wins the Tory leadership race and becomes prime minister.
He has vowed to increase defence spending from 2% of GDP to 2.5%, a cost of around £12bn more a year in 2023, and more jets for the navy’s new aircraft carriers could be included.
“When you look at this week’s events it shows that in recent decades we have run down the navy too much,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
Police in Gibraltar have arrested the captain of the Grace 1 and the chief officer of the vessel.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has previously warned the UK of “consequences” after the seizing of its oil tanker.
Meanwhile, the US is pushing allies to increase their maritime security in the region, safeguarding strategic waters off Iran and Yemen.
Relations between the US and Iran have fractured since President Donald Trump pulled the US out of a nuclear deal with Iran and re-imposed sanctions.