A SECOND British warship has been sent to the Gulf in a bid to boost its military presence as Iran makes fresh threats warning Britain “is playing a dangerous game” over seizing an oil tanker last week.

HMS Duncan, a Type 45 Destroyer, will soon sail to the Gulf to operate alongside the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose and US allies.

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The British Royal Navy has sent destroyer HMS Duncan to the Gulf to boost its military presence
PA
DD COMPOSITE FRIGATE - Royal Navy sends another warship to the Gulf as Iran warns Britain ‘is playing a dangerous game’ over oil tanker seizure
The HMS Montrose was escorting the tanker on Wednesday when it was forced to scramble into action and warn off the Iranian vessels, it was claimed
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The frigate’s 30mm guns were trained on the enemy boats as they approached the British tanker (file image)
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The HMS Montrose (pictured firing a missile on exercise in 2013) trained its guns on the Iranian ships
Crown Copyright

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Shuttershock

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]

The destroyer – which saw 17 Russian fighter jets dangerously buzz it off the coast of Crimea last year – was due to travel to the region but her deployment has been brought forward due to the recent tensions in the region, Sky News reported.

British Royal Marines seized the Grace 1 super tanker last week after it was suspected of taking crude oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

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.”

Iran has since threatened to seize a British oil tanker in retaliation, if the tanker was 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.”

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has encouraged the Royal Navy to send more warships, writing in The Telegraph that “in recent decades we have run down the navy too much”.

IRAN’S RETALIATION

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.

INSUFFICIENT DEFENCE

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

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”.

TANKER STANDOFF

According to the anonymous officials, the Montrose came up from the rear of the tanker and aimed its weapons at the Iranians – before issuing a verbal warning to get away.

One of the officials said: “The Royal Navy HMS Montrose, which was also there, pointed it guns at the boats and warned them over radio, at which point they dispersed.”

The other added: “It was harassment and an attempt to interfere with the passage.”

A US aircraft was flying overhead at the time and recorded footage of the standoff, the officials said.

The attempted capture comes just days after British Royal Marines seized an Iranian crude oil supertanker off Gibraltar.

Commandos dramatically detained the Grace 1 tanker over suspicions it was carrying oil to its ally Syria in violation of EU sanctions last week.

Iran later issued a chilling threat of retaliation for last Thursday’s daring raid.

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.

IRAN VOWS TO HIT BACK

A deputy commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday 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,” 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.”

Confirming the Montrose standoff yesterday, a Government spokesperson urged Iran to “de-escalate the situation in the region”.

The Royal Navy HMS Montrose, which was also there, pointed it guns at the boats and warned them over radio, at which point they dispersed

US official

 

The Government spokesman 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.”

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.”

Iran later accused “weak” Britain of lying about the incident in a bid to inflame tensions in the region.

Tehran’s foreign minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif appeared to deny the Islamic Republic’s boats were being confrontational.

He said: “They make a claim to create a tension that these claims are not worthwhile, and raised many claims.”

Mr Zarif also said “England” was attempting to “cover their weakness ” while blasting America for engaging in “economic terrorism” referring to the sanctions imposed on Tehran by Washington.

Initial reports from the US said that five Iranian vessels had harassed the tanker.

However, Iran has denied claims it was trying to seize the tanker.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the UK made the claims “for creating tension”.

He added: “These claims have no value.”​

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The BP tanker was confronted by Iranian boats in the Strait of Hormuz
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The HMS Duncan, a Type 45 Destroyer, will relieve HMS Montrose in the region
AP:Associated Press

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

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Getty – Contributor

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

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Getty – Contributor

The warship has an array of weaponry at its disposal including two 30mm automatic guns and a 4.5inch main gun[/caption]

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UK MOD © Crown copyright 2019

A British Royal Marine during last Thursday’s operation in Gibraltar in which an Iranian oil tanker was captured[/caption]

Responding to the reports, US Central Command spokesman Cpt Bill Urban said: “Threats to international freedom of navigation require an international solution.

“The world economy depends on the free flow of commerce, and it is incumbent on all nations to protect and preserve this linchpin of global prosperity.”

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

A spokesman for Theresa May said the Prime Minister is “concerned” about the incident in the Gulf and called for a “deescalation.”

The British Heritage ship – operated by BP – earlier made an “abrupt” u-turn and returned to the safety of Saudi Arabia’s coastline on Sunday.

It had been heading to Iraq’s Basrah terminal when satellite trackers showed it changing course.

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.

US President Donald Trump said the deal had been too soft – but it was still supported by other western backers including the UK.

Following Iran’s announcement, Trump vowed on Wednesday that sanctions on Iran would “soon be increased, substantially!”

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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Two oil tankers were destroyed by mines suspected to have been planted by Iranian forces last month

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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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