WASHINGTON—Five boats believed to belong to Iranian Revolutionary Guards approached a British oil tanker in the Gulf on Wednesday and asked it to stop in Iranian waters close by, but withdrew after a British warship warned them, U.S. officials said.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence had no immediate comment.
CNN reported, citing two U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the incident, that the British Heritage tanker was making its way out of the Persian Gulf and was crossing into the Strait of Hormuz area when the Iranian boats approached.
The HMS Montrose, a U.K. Royal Navy warship, was traveling close by from behind to monitor the British Heritage tanker.
According to CNN, the HMS Montrose successfully warned the Iranian boats to back off. The British warship is equipped with 30 mm guns specifically designed to drive off small boats.
The incident occurred almost a week after British Royal Marines boarded an Iranian tanker, Grace 1, off Gibraltar and seized it on suspicion that it was breaking sanctions by taking oil to Syria.
Earlier on Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Britain would face “consequences” over the seizure of the Iranian tanker.
Tensions between Iran and the United States and its allies have risen since Washington stepped up economic sanctions against Iran and moved to bring the country’s oil exports to zero as part of a “maximum pressure” policy to make Iran halt actions that it said undermined regional security.
Iran has responded to the sanctions by starting to breach limits put on its nuclear activities under a 2015 deal with world powers.
Several oil tankers were attacked in waters near Iran’s southern coast in May and June, for which the United States blamed Iran. Tehran denied any involvement.
Last month, Iran shot down a U.S. drone near the Strait of Hormuz. President Donald Trump called off retaliatory air strikes saying that no American lives had been lost and he did not want tensions with Tehran escalate.
“We didn’t have a man or woman in the drone,” he said at the time. “It would have made a big, big difference.
“I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth. I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid who did it.”
The U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Wednesday’s incident happened as British Heritage was at the northern entrance of the Strait of Hormuz.
“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,” one of the officials said.
“It was harassment and an attempt to interfere with the passage,” the other official said.
The United States hopes to enlist allies over the next two weeks or so in a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen, Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday.
Epoch Times staff contributed to this report.