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Iran in warning to UK as Royal Navy keeps up presence in Gulf

HMS Duncan is to relieve HMS Montrose
HMS Duncan is to relieve HMS Montrose

By Sam Blewett

Iran has warned the UK not to enter a "dangerous game" as plans to relieve a Royal Navy warship in the Gulf were announced amid escalating tensions.

Downing Street raised concerns about Tehran's threats to disrupt shipping in the region after HMS Montrose drove off Iranian patrol boats which were attempting to impede the progress of a British tanker.

The UK yesterday brought forward plans to dispatch the Type 45 Destroyer HMS Duncan to the region to relieve Montrose.

Tensions rose after an Iranian tanker was seized off Gibraltar in an operation involving Royal Marines.

The vessel was suspected of violating EU sanctions by carrying Iranian oil to Syria.

Gibraltar yesterday said that the vessel's cargo had been confirmed by laboratory testing to be 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil.

Duncan, currently in the Black Sea, will relieve Montrose in the Gulf so the Type 23 frigate can undergo planned maintenance and crew changes, the Government confirmed.

A spokeswoman said: "This will ensure that the UK, alongside international partners, can continue to support freedom of navigation for vessels transiting through this vital shipping lane."

Duncan is considered to be one of the most advanced warships in the world, according to the Royal Navy.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Britain wants to "de-escalate" the "serious" situation and sending HMS Duncan was "about our responsibility to do everything we can to protect British shipping".

He told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme yesterday: "We have a responsibility to protect British shipping and, with our allies, to protect the waterways and seaways of the world, so we have to react according to the threats that we face.

"But this is not an Iran-specific issue - notwithstanding the broader tensions in the region - this is about Syria and about a breach of the sanctions against Syria, which of course is a country that Iran is active in."

Montrose was forced to act against the patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz as it attempted to "impede" the passage of BP-operated tanker British Heritage.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which is thought to have been operating the patrol boats, denied the incident.

The move came as police in Gibraltar arrested the captain and chief officer of Iranian supertanker Grace 1, which was detained last Thursday.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi called for the release of the tanker, rejecting the allegations, as he issued strong words to the IRNA news agency.

"The documents and evidence and the contradictory remarks made by the British all indicate that London's allegation, legally speaking, is not that significant and noteworthy unless they would want to enter into a dangerous game under the influence of the Americans with no end in sight," he said.

A Downing Street spokeswoman spoke of the Government's concerns in the region.

"We are concerned about the threats that they are making to disrupt shipping in the area and we have been urging them to de-escalate the situation in the region," she told a Westminster briefing.

Along with Montrose, the Navy has four mine countermeasures vessels and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Cardigan Bay logistics ship in the region.

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