Iranian boats approached British tanker near Strait of Hormuz, officials say

Iranian boats approached a British tanker near the Strait of Hormuz, attempting to force the British vessel into territorial waters, but the five Iranian vessels were driven away by a British military ship, a senior U.S. defense official said Wednesday.

No shots were fired in the incident, which the senior defense official said occurred when five armed Iranian boats approached the British tanker, but those vessels were driven away by the HMS Montrose, which was around 4 miles behind the tanker, the senior defense official said.

The incident is the latest near the Strait of Hormuz, which is a strategic waterway off Iran’s coast and which separates the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

Capt. Bull Urban, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said in a statement that the U.S. military was “aware of the reports of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp Navy’s FAC/FIAC harassment and attempts to interfere with the passage of the UK-flagged merchant vessel British Heritage today near the Strait of Hormuz.”

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is the same force that said it shot down a U.S. surveillance drone last month.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard claimed it shot down the drone after it entered Iranian airspace, but the U.S. has disputed that and said the aircraft was in international airspace above the Strait of Hormuz.

“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 lynchpin of global prosperity,” Urban said in the statement.

The U.S. has also blamed Iran for what the military said was a limpet mine attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in June. Iran has denied any involvement in the incident.

There were no deaths reported in that incident, which involved a Japanese and Norwegian vessel. One person aboard the Japanese tanker, the Kokuka Courageous, suffered minor injuries, the vessel’s management firm has said.

There have been escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran after the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement and imposed punishing sanctions on the country. The Trump administration has also designated the Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. Last month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order putting in place new sanctions.

U.S. officials have accused Iran of hostile behavior by Iranian forces and proxy groups. The U.S. has also accused Iran of moving missiles and missile components through the region’s waterways for years, shipping missiles to the Houthis in Yemen and others.

After the drone was shot down, Trump tweeted that the U.S. was “cocked & loaded” to retaliate with military strikes on Iranian targets, but he said he called off the action after being told 150 people could die.

Iran said on Sunday it would breach the terms of the nuclear deal it signed with the U.S. and other powers, vowing to enrich uranium beyond the cap set by the 2015 agreement.

The enrichment work would break the limits of the deal later on Sunday, and the government planned an additional unspecified step within 60 days that would breach other provisions in the agreement, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, told a news conference in Tehran at the time.

But he said Iran remains open to diplomacy and still believes the nuclear agreement is valid.

Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, told Al-Jazeera that the U.S. is seeking a Senate-approved agreement to replace the nuclear deal.

On Tuesday, U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States wants to build a maritime coalition to stop attacks on tankers in waters off Iran.