On July 11, up to five small fast attack craft, of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN), reportedly approached the Isle of Man-registered oil tanker British Heritage, off Abu Musa Island near the Straits of Hormuz.
The occupants of the IRGCN craft called on the tanker, which was being shadowed by the Bahrain-based British Royal Navy (RN) Type 23 frigate Montrose, to stop. Montrose therefore inserted itself between the British Heritage and the Iranian craft, reportedly aiming one of its 30mm cannon at the IRGCN boats. According to some reports, the frigate also deployed its Wildcat helicopter to buzz the Iranian craft.
Following this intervention by Montrose, the IRGCN vessels left the scene.
The Iranian harassment, which Tehran denies took place, was, apparently, a calibrated response to the earlier seizure by British Forces, off Gibraltar, of the tanker Grace 1. The ship was reportedly destined for Syria, with a cargo of Iranian light crude oil, in contravention of EU sanctions.
The level of response from Montrose was relatively low, considering the ship has an armament fit which includes a 114mm gun, and Harpoon anti-shipping missiles.
On the previous day, the British warship had reportedly deterred some IRGCN vessels from approaching another Isle of Man-registered tanker, the Pacific Voyager.
Cool heads seem to have prevailed so far, but tension in the region is very high,
The RN has warned all shipping in the area to be very alert, and some analysts are speculating that it is increasingly likely that an international naval force will be deployed to the region,
Also, it is worthy of note that rising maritime power India has already sent a task group, consisting of the destroyer Chennai, and the OPV Sunayna into the Gulf of Oman, in order to protect Indian shipping.
Maritime security expert and columnist, Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police, Assistant Secretary for Security in the British Hong Kong Government Security Branch, and Intelligence Analyst in the UK Ministry of Defence. As an independent defence and security analyst he has had some 1,500 articles on maritime security, and geopolitical topics, published in a range of international journals and newspapers. He is an Associate Fellow of the Nautical Institute, and a past Vice-Chairman of the Institute’s Hong Kong branch.