The British navy intervened to stop Iran from seizing a commercial oil tanker leaving the Persian Gulf, and order it to change course, heightening friction just as European nations scramble to salvage a landmark nuclear accord with the Islamic Republic.
The incident was originally reported by CNN, which cited two U.S. officials.
The BP Plc-operated British Heritage, which can carry as much as 1 million barrels of oil, was attempting to pass through the Strait of Hormuz, a shipping chokepoint at the mouth of the world’s largest oil-producing region, when three Iranian vessels tried to impede it, according to a U.K. government statement. Iran denied the charge.
The Royal Navy’s HMS Montrose, which was escorting the tanker, “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,” the statement said.
The incident marks an escalation in a row that started after U.K. forces seized a tanker off Gibraltar earlier this month that was suspected of carrying Iranian oil to Syria.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps denied trying to impede the British tanker but said its forces could act fast if ordered to do so. “If it receives an order to seize foreign ships, naval forces can act fast, with determination and without hesitation within the geographic scope of its mission,” the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
Benchmark Brent crude was 13 cents higher at $67.14 a barrel in London trading at 7:07 a.m. local time. Oil has been rallying since the middle of last week as tensions surrounding Iran stoke concerns crude flows may be disrupted.
The British Heritage was able to pass safely through the Strait of Hormuz and was now sailing along the Omani coast, according to tanker tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.
There are six vessels operating in the Gulf registered to Britain, or a British Overseas Territory, and five operating under the British flag. In total, they have the capacity to transport almost 9 million barrels of crude.