UK warship ‘raced to help Brit oil tanker seized by Iran but was just minutes late’

A UK warship sped to help a British oil tanker that was seized by Iran last night but arrived ten minutes too late, a defence source has said. The HMS Montrose was dispatched while the Stena Impero was in Omani waters but the warship arrived after the tanker had entered Iranian territorial waters. The UK has warned of “serious consequences” after Iran last night sparked a new Gulf crisis by seizing two British oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. In a major escalation of tensions, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard launched a gunboat and helicopter raid on the Stena Impero, which is registered in the UK, claiming it had turned off its tracker and ignored warnings. Another vessel, the Mesdar, was also intercepted and forced towards Iranian territory in what appeared to be a co-ordinated strike. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who attended an emergency Cobra meeting, said there would be “serious consequences” and pledged a robust response. But he added: “We’re not looking at military options, we’re looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation, but we are very clear that it must be resolved.” Mr Hunt said the Stena Impero was surrounded by four vessels and a helicopter, and was heading into Iranian waters. The second ship, the Mesdar, was surrounded by 10 speedboats, he said. Taking to Twitter on Saturday Mr Hunt said: “Yesterday’s action in Gulf shows worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour after Gibraltar’s LEGAL detention of oil bound for Syria. “As I said yesterday our reaction will be considered but robust. We have been trying to find a way to resolve Grace1 issue but WILL ensure the safety of our shipping.” The incident came two weeks after Royal Marines seized Iran’s Grace 1 tanker off Gibraltar – prompting Tehran to threaten “retaliation”. The ship appeared to be in violation of EU sanctions on exporting oil to Syria but Iran called it an act of piracy. Yesterday the British-flagged Stena Impero, which was bounded for Saudi Arabia from the UAE, suddenly changed course and was diverted towards the island of Qeshm, where Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has a large base. The defence source told the Times the Iranians appeared to be taking a “very aggressive stance” and were viewed as having been “ready to engage” HMS Montrose. Iran claimed the ship had “failed to respect international maritime rules” by switching off its tracker and heading the wrong way in a shipping lane. Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency since claimed the country’s seizure of British-flagged oil tanker was due to a collision with an Iranian fishing boat. The report said the British tanker caused damage to the fishing boat, then did not respond to calls from the smaller craft. Sweden’s Stena Bulk, the owner of the Stena Impero, said the Revolutionary Guard – classed as a terror group by the US – used small craft and a helicopter. Erik Hanell, president and chief executive of Stena Bulk, said: “There are 23 seafarers onboard of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationality. “There have been no reported injuries and the safety and welfare of our crew remains our primary focus. “We are in close contact with both the UK and Swedish government authorities to resolve this situation and we are liaising closely with our seafarers’ families.” The Liberian-flagged by British-owned Mesdar was also diverted towards the mainland about 40 minutes later. It was said to have been stormed by gunmen but later released. Neither of the two ships had any British crew on board. Housing Secretary James Brokenshire said the seizure of the tanker was “completely intolerable” and said the Government was seeking to establish diplomatic connections with Tehran. He told Today: “The actions of the Iranians is completely unacceptable. It is so important that we maintain this free navigation through the Gulf and to seize a vessel in this way is just completely intolerable.” UK vessels have been advised to “stay out of the area” of the Strait of Hormuz for an “interim period”, a government spokesman said. President Donald Trump last night called Iran “nothing but trouble”, adding: “It goes to show I was right about Iran.”