Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) denied on Thursday that they had impeded a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, the force’s Sepah news agency said.
“There has been no confrontation in the last 24 hours with any foreign vessels, including British ones,” the IRGC said in a statement.
The British government said Thursday that three Iranian ships had attempted to “impede the passage” of a British oil tanker in Gulf waters, forcing HMS Montrose — a UK frigate — to intervene.
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.
The US 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 its 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.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense had no immediate comment.
Meanwhile, French armed forces chief Francois Lecointre said on Thursday that tensions in the Gulf were unlikely to spiral out of control
“There is a clash of wills underway between the United States and Iran with posturing, reactions, signals and which can from one day to the next get out of control,” Lecointre told CNews television.
“I think it is under control now... I don’t think it can spiral out of control but there can be escalation,” he added.
Earlier on Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Britain would face “consequences” over the seizure of the Iranian tanker.
Tensions between Iran and the US and its allies have risen sharply 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 US blamed Iran. Tehran denied any involvement.
Last month, Iran shot down a US drone near the Strait of Hormuz, prompting President Donald Trump to order retaliatory air strikes, only to call them off.
The US 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.