- Three Iranian gunboats harassed a British oil tanker, and attempted to force it to steer out of international waters into Iranian territory on Wednesday, the UK government said.
- The tanker belongs to BP. According to Bloomberg, it made the unusual decision to sail home with no cargo on board, part of a plan to avoid Iranian hostility.
- Iran had threatened to target a British tanker after Royal Marines helped seize an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar, which officials say was violating sanctions by shipping oil to Syria.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The British oil tanker which Iran confronted with three gunboats is a BP ship which was worried that it may get caught up in just such a skirmish.
The ship — the British Heritage — was confronted by Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Wednesday.
According to the UK government, the vessels ordered the British Heritage tanker to change course, leaving the international waters of the Strait of Hormuz in order to enter Iranian waters instead.
In response, a Royal Navy frigate — HMS Montrose — placed itself between the tanker and the Iranian boats, aimed its weapons at the Iranian, and gave "verbal warnings" for them to leave, the British government said.
The Iranian vessels then sailed away.
BP confirmed to Business Insider that the British Heritage carries oil for the company, but declined to give further details.
Business Insider understands that the oil tanker was not carrying any cargo when the IRGC approached it.
A spokesman for the British oil company told Business Insider: "Our top priority is the safety and security of our crews and vessels. While we are not commenting on these events, we thank the Royal Navy for their support."
The incident took place when the British Heritage was passing by Abu Musa island off Dubai, Sky News foreign affairs editor Deborah Haynes reported.
Kick van den Dool/MarineTraffic.com
The British Heritage worried that it might get attacked by Iran
The British Heritage was behaving cautiously before Wednesday’s incident, after Iran made repeated threats to target a British tanker in retaliation for the seizure of one of its own vessels.
British Royal Marines helped seize an Iran tanker — the Grace 1 — off the coast of Gibraltar, a British territory, on July 4.
Gibraltar officials say they stopped the ship because it was carrying Iranian oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. The incident prompted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to say, according to Reuters: "You [Britain] are the initiator of insecurity and you will realise the consequences later."
Google Maps/Business Insider
BP had been taking measures to make sure the British Heritage would not be attacked by Iran after the Gibraltar incident, according to a Bloomberg report published on Monday.
According to the report, the British Heritage had been sailing toward Iraq’s southern Basrah terminal to pick up cargo, but made an abrupt U-turn on July 6, two days after the Gibraltar incident.
Mick Storey/Royal Navy/Handout via Reuters
BP declined to comment on Bloomberg’s story.
However, a source close to the company told Business Insider that the British Heritage had been sailing toward Basrah, and did not end up picking up cargo from the Iraqi port.
A UK government spokesperson told Business Insider’s David Choi on Wednesday: "We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region."
- How the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow stretch of water where ships transport $1.2 billion worth of oil every day, is at the heart of spiraling tensions with Iran
- A South Korean man just defected to North Korea in an extremely rare case, 33 years after his parents did the same thing
- Europe reportedly threatens to activate nuclear-deal clause that could reimpose sanctions and push Iran into China and Russia’s arms