A ROYAL Navy frigate was forced to train its weapons on three Iranian boats that tried to seize a British oil tanker off Iran yesterday.
Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard tried to take control of the vessel as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz – sparking a tense standoff in the Persian Gulf, US officials revealed.
But HMS Montrose quickly trained its 30mm deck guns on the enemy boats and warned them off, they added.
The British Heritage tanker was being escorted through the flashpoint region by the Montrose amid feverish tensions between Iran and the West.
But the Navy frigate rallied into action when the rival boats approached the oil tanker and demanded it change course into Iranian waters.
According to the anonymous officials, the Montrose came up from the rear of the tanker and aimed its weapons at the Iranians – before issuing a verbal warning to get away.
One of the officials said: "The Royal Navy HMS Montrose, which was also there, pointed it guns at the boats and warned them over radio, at which point they dispersed."
The other added: "It was harassment and an attempt to interfere with the passage."
STAND-OFF FILMED BY US
A US aircraft was flying overhead at the time and recorded footage of the standoff, the officials said.
The attempted capture comes just days after British Royal Marines seized an Iranian crude oil supertanker off Gibraltar.
Commandos dramatically detained the Grace 1 tanker over suspicions it was carrying oil to its ally Syria in violation of EU sanctions last week.
Iran later issued a chilling threat of retaliation for last Thursday's daring raid.
President Hassan Rouhani warned on Wednesday that the UK will suffer "consequences" for its actions.
He said: "I tell the British that they are the initiator of insecurity and you will understand its consequences later."
And Iran's Major General Mohammad Bagheri warned the seizure of the Grace 1 "will not go unanswered".
Confirming the Montrose standoff yesterday, a Government spokesperson urged Iran to "de-escalate the situation in the region".
The Royal Navy HMS Montrose, which was also there, pointed it guns at the boats and warned them over radio, at which point they dispersed
The Government spokesman said: "Contrary to international law, three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the Strait of Hormuz.
"HMS Montrose was forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, which then turned away.
"We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region."
Iran later accused "weak" Britain of lying about the incident in a bid to inflame tensions in the region.
Tehran's foreign minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif appeared to deny the Islamic Republic's boats were being confrontational.
He said: "They make a claim to create a tension that these claims are not worthwhile, and raised many claims."
Mr Zarif also said "England" was attempting to "cover their weakness " while blasting America for engaging in "economic terrorism" referring to the sanctions imposed on Tehran by Washington.
Initial reports from the US said that five Iranian vessels had harassed the tanker.
Responding to the reports, US Central Command spokesman Cpt Bill Urban said: "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 linchpin of global prosperity."
UK defence officials have previously confirmed that the Montrose had been deployed to the region to perform a "maritime security role."
The British Heritage ship – operated by BP – earlier made an “abrupt” u-turn and returned to the safety of Saudi Arabia’s coastline on Sunday.
It had been heading to Iraq’s Basrah terminal when satellite trackers showed it changing course.
Tensions continue to rise between Iran and the West after the Islamic Republic last week announced it was upping its uranium enrichment programme.
Tehran plans to increase its production beyond the limits imposed by the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal – which the US walked away from earlier this year.
US President Donald Trump said the deal had been too soft – but it was still supported by other western backers including the UK.
Following Iran's announcement, Trump vowed on Wednesday that sanctions on Iran would "soon be increased, substantially!"
Last month, President Trump called off a planned airstrike on Iranian military targets at the last minute in retaliation for the shooting down of an unmanned US drone.
Iran had earlier been blamed for a series of devastating sea mine attacks on US-linked oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz.
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