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British warship goes to aid of tanker amid Iranian threats

Iranian naval vessels 'impeded' tanker during its voyage through key shipping channel

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", said British authorities.

Washington DC

A BRITISH oil tanker exited the Persian Gulf and was sailing off the coast of Oman on Thursday after Iranian naval vessels "impeded" it during the voyage.

The British Heritage passed through the Strait of Hormuz, the oil chokepoint at the mouth of the Gulf, and was sailing along the Omani coast, according to tanker tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.

"Three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the Strait of Hormuz," a UK government spokesman said.

"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."

Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps said it didn't interfere with the tanker. "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.

The incident comes after British forces arrested a tanker in Gibraltar suspected of carrying Iranian oil to Syria.

Iran said it's enriching uranium beyond the cap set in a landmark 2015 nuclear accord with world powers, increasing pressure on European nations who want it to stick with the multi-party deal that's been shunned by the Trump administration.

Benchmark Brent crude was 13 cents higher at US$67.14 a barrel in London trading at 7.07 am 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, operated by BP, is able to haul some 1 million barrels of oil. The draught, or depth of the vessel in the water, was little changed during the ship's aborted voyage to load oil in Iraq, indicating the vessel never took on any cargo.

Officials at BP's London media office didn't immediately respond to calls outside business hours.

The ship, scheduled to sail from Iraq to Europe, had been kept inside the Gulf in recent days over concerns Iran could seize it in a tit-for-tat response to the arrest by British forces of a vessel near Gilbraltar hauling the Islamic Republic's crude.

Six tankers in the Gulf region were damaged in bombings in May and June that the US blamed on Iran.

Iranian forces later shot down a US surveillance drone that they said was flying over Iranian airspace. Iran denied involvement in the tanker bombings.

There are six vessels operating in the Persian 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. BLOOMBERG