AN Iranian attack on a British ship is “only a matter of time” unless the UK releases a seized oil tanker, an ex Forces chief has warned.

The Royal Navy has sent a destroyer to the Gulf days after a British frigate chased off Iranian troops as they tried to storm a BP oil tanker.

 

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HMS Duncan sailed through Istanbul yesterday
Reuters
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It crossed the Bosphorous from the Mediterranean yesterday morning

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HMS Duncan will patrol the busy shipping lane as all UK flagged vessels were put on the highest security alert level over fears of retaliation from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Iran yesterday warned Britain “is playing a dangerous game” over the seizure of an oil tanker in Gibraltar last week and warned western forces to “leave the area”.

HMS Duncan – a £1.1bn guided missile destroyer bristling with deadly tech – will join HMS Montrose and US allies in efforts to protect shipping amid escalating tensions.

This deployment comes despite warnings from Iran not to play President Trump’s “dangerous game”.

Tehran is demanding the release of Grace 1, an Iranian-owned oil tanker seized off Gibraltar by British Royal Marines earlier this month.

Unquestionably it is a matter of when, rather than if, Iran launches another attack

Colonel KempFormer UK Armed Forces Commander

Colonel Kemp, a former UK Armed Forces commander, last night warned that while Grace 1 remained in custody in Gibraltar, Iran would continue to seek revenge and the Royal Navy needed to be prepared to respond.

He said: “The next time there is a stand-off in the Persian Gulf, the Royal Navy must send the strongest possible signal to Iran”.

Colonel Kemp, who has chaired the UK’s Cobra emergency response committee, added: “Unquestionably it is a matter of when, rather than if, Iran launches another attack.

“Only if they are met with very stiff resistance will they get the message.”

Last month Iran was accused of attacking tankers with mines, and it has warned of “consequences” after Royal Marines boarded the Grace 1 supertanker suspected of taking crude oil to Syria.

In fresh threats, Iran’s Foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told state news agency IRNA: “This is a dangerous game and we advise them not get involved in this game under America’s influence.”

He added: “We ask them again to release the tanker immediately, which will be in all countries’ interest.”

Gibraltar’s government today insisted it acted alone in deciding to seize the tanker based on evidence it was breaching EU sanctions.

But Iran has threatened to seize a British tanker in retaliation if the Grace 1 is not released.

Senior Iran cleric Kazem Sedighi was also reported saying: “The British will soon get a slap from the strong arms of our establishment for their daring, reckless and negligent act that will make them regret it for good.”

IRAN’S RETALIATION

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt vowed on Thursday night to boost the Royal Navy if he becomes PM and encouraged the senior service to send more warships, writing in The Telegraph that “in recent decades we have run down the navy too much”.

HMS Duncan – which was dangerously buzzed by 17 Russian jets near Crimea last year – was due in the region anyway but her deployment has been brought forward due to the recent tensions, Sky News reported.

The news comes after three Iranian gun boats swarmed passing oil tanker British Heritage late on Wednesday in an illegal bid to force it into enemy waters.

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard tried to take control of the vessel as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz – sparking a tense standoff in the Persian Gulf, US officials revealed.

The Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose – which was escorting the tanker through the flashpoint region – was forced to sail in front of the boats.

After quickly training its 30mm deck guns on the enemy boats, deploying its Wildcat helicopter and issuing a radio warning, the Iranian boats scarpered.

Defence expert Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon said he was concerned that a mistake or misinterpretation of intention in the Persian Gulf could trigger a bigger clash with Iranian forces.

He said: “There are so many pieces on the chessboard and so many antagonists facing each other.

“I think it is very worrying that more shots could be fired before this is resolved.

“For its part, it is essential for Britain to play its role as the US’s critical friend to ensure sound judgment on our side, while militarily we must back the US to the hilt.”

Last night it was understood HMS Duncan was approaching the Suez Canal before it begins a voyage across the Red Sea at 20 knots.

It will then head east through the Guld of Aden towards Iran.

Last night the MoD said: “As part of our long-standing presence in the Gulf, HMS Duncan is deploying to the region to ensure we maintain a continuous maritime security presence.

“This will ensure that the UK, alongside international partners, can continue to support freedom of navigation for vessels transiting through this vital shipping lane.”

INSUFFICIENT DEFENCE

Currently the UK has HMS Montrose and four minehunters in the region – insufficient numbers to shadow every British tanker passing through.

UK defence officials have previously confirmed that the Montrose had been deployed to the region to perform a “maritime security role”.

Meanwhile, the Department for Transport has issued new guidance to all British-flagged commercial ships to go to a heightened state of security in the Strait of Hormuz, Sky News reported.

A defence source said Iranian patrol boats were “being aggressive towards them”.

While the UK is determined not to raise tensions, insiders admitted the Government must reassess its Naval footprint in the region.

A source said: “This illegal incident has sharpened minds. The Naval contribution kept in the region is kept under constant review.”

Responding to the major escalation on Wednesday evening, a UK Government 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.”

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK would monitor the situation “very carefully”.

While Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesman said the government was “committed to maintaining freedom of navigation in accordance with international law”.

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said the government was concerned by the incident and urged the Iranian authorities to “de-escalate the situation”.

IRAN VOWS TO HIT BACK

President Hassan Rouhani warned on Wednesday that the UK will suffer “consequences” for its actions.

He said: “I tell the British that they are the initiator of insecurity and you will understand its consequences later.”

And Iran’s Major General Mohammad Bagheri warned the seizure of the Grace 1 “will not go unanswered”.

Gibraltar police have recently confirmed they arrested the captain and chief officer of the detained Iranian Grace 1 supertanker and have seized documents and electronic devices from the vessel.

A deputy commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said that Britain and the United States will regret detaining the oil tanker.

“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.”

Jeremy Hunt calls for boost to Royal Navy

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Iran crisis showed we needed to boost the Royal Navy.

The Tory leadership hopeful said “we have run down the navy too much” in recent decades.

Mr Hunt, the son of an admiral, promised to add more warships to the fleet if he entered Number 10.

His comments came after it emerged a Royal Navy warship drove off Iranian patrol boats as they attempted to impede the progress of a British tanker through the Strait of Hormuz.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Hunt said: “Three vessels from a foreign military power tried to seize a British ship conducting its rightful business.

“The simplicity of these words belies the incredible menace behind Iran’s actions. Not for the first time, Britain’s interests were defended by the Royal Navy.”

Mr Hunt has previously pledged to increase defence spending from 2 per cent of GDP to 2.5 per cent, at a cost of around £12 billion a year extra in 2023.

He indicated that extra ships and more jets for the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers could be part of his plans.

He added: “When you look at this week’s events it shows that in recent decades we have run down the navy too much.

“Our current commitment is for 19 destroyers and frigates, supported by excellent offshore patrol vessels.

“If I become prime minister, I will review this commitment as part of a wider look at our defence capability.”

HEIGHTENED TENSIONS

Tensions continue to rise between Iran and the West after the Islamic Republic last week announced it was upping its uranium enrichment programme.

Tehran plans to increase its production beyond the limits imposed by the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal – which the US walked away from earlier this year.

Today we told how Iran is preparing to ramp up production in a secret nuclear site built below a mountain.

Last month, President Trump called off a planned airstrike on Iranian military targets at the last minute in retaliation for the shooting down of an unmanned US drone.

Iran had earlier been blamed for a series of devastating sea mine attacks on US-linked oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz.

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The British Heritage oil tanker, pictured, was travelling through the Strait of Hormuz on Wednesday when it was approached by Iranian military boats, according to US officials[/caption]

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The BP tanker was confronted by Iranian boats in the Strait of Hormuz
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The British Royal Navy has sent the destroyer to the Gulf to boost its military presence
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The frigate’s 30mm guns were trained on the enemy boats as they approached the British tanker (file image)
News Group Newspapers Ltd

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PA:Press Association

The HMS Montrose has been deployed in the Gulf to perform a ‘maritime security role’, officials said[/caption]

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The British warship has torpedo defence systems on board[/caption]

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The Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 was seized by British Royal Marines off Gibraltar after being suspected of illegally transporting oil to Syria – in violation of international sanctions[/caption]

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Iran’s President Rouhani had vowed ‘consequences’ for Britain’s dramatic seizure of an Iranian tanker bound for Syria[/caption]

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