Three Iranian vessels have attempted to impede the passage of a British oil tanker through the Strait of Hormuz.

The vessel, British Heritage, was understood to have been near the island of Abu Musa when it was approached by the Iranian boats. UK Royal Navy warship HMS Montrose intervened by positioning itself between the British Heritage and the Iranian vessels and issuing verbal warnings, causing the Iranian boats to disperse.

A UK Ministry of Defence 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.”

“We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region.”

A US defence official – speaking on the condition of anonymity – told Reuters: “The Royal Navy HMS Montrose pointed it[s] guns at the boats and warned them over radio, at which point they dispersed.”

Another official described the activities of the Iranian boats as “harassment and an attempt to interfere with the passage.”

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The Strait of Hormuz is one of the world’s busiest oil routes and the only sea passage through the Persian Gulf.

This latest incident follows the seizure of a tanker suspected to be carrying Iranian oil to Syria by UK commandos offshore Gibraltar in July 2019, which was described by an Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson as being “tantamount to maritime piracy.”

Tensions between Iran and the west have heightened recently, following Iran’s breaching of limits placed on its low-enriched uranium stockpiles in July 2019, as well as US officials attributing attacks on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz in June 2019 to the nation, as well as a number of attacks on tankers in May 2019.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) denied involvement in the incident. Iranian news outlet Fars quoted an IRGC spokesperson as saying: “Naval patrols of the Guards Corps in the Persian Gulf continue vigilantly, precisely and strongly based on regular procedures and missions, and during the last 24 hours, there have been no encounters with foreign vessels, including the British ones.”