Iran’s supreme leader has vowed to retaliate over the seizure of an Iranian tanker by Royal Marines in Gibraltar.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned the seizure as “piracy” and said: “God willing, the Islamic Republic and its committed forces will not leave this evil without a response.”
His threat came as the Ministry of Defence announced the deployment of two further Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels to the Persian Gulf, where tensions are high over Iranian efforts to disrupt merchant shipping.
The US was reported to have suspicions that a UAE-based oil tanker may have been seized by Iran after it went out of contact on Saturday evening.
Tracking data from the MT Riah last showed it in the Strait of Hormuz heading for Iranian waters.
Royal Navy warship HMS Montrose was last week forced to drive off gunboats of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as they attempted to impede the progress of a BP oil tanker through the strait.
The incident came days after the seizure of the Grace 1 in Gibraltar amid suspicions it was being used to breach international sanctions against Syria.
A second warship, the destroyer HMS Duncan, has since been sent to the Gulf to ensure continuous protection for UK shipping when the Montrose is pulled out in a few weeks’ time.
The MoD on Tuesday announced a further Type 23 frigate, HMS Kent will deploy later in the year to replace the Duncan when it reaches the end of its mission.
And the tanker RFA Wave Knight will be sent to the region in August to perform duties delivering food, fuel, water and other essential supplies to Royal Navy and allied ships.
The MoD stressed that the new deployments were a “routine” part of the ongoing Operation Kipion and not a response to the recent escalation of tensions in the Gulf.
Since 1980, UK ships have maintained a year-round presence in the Gulf to ensure the safe flow of trade and counter narcotics and piracy. Around 1,200 personnel are currently committed to the operation.
In response to the Ayatollah’s comments Downing Street called for calm from Tehran.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesman said: “We have been consistent: escalation in the Gulf is not in anyone’s interests.
”We have repeatedly stressed that to the Iranians.“
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has offered to facilitate the release of Grace 1 in return for guarantees from Tehran that it would not breach sanctions on Bashar Assad’s regime.
US president Donald Trump told a meeting of his cabinet in the White House that a lot of progress had been made with Iran and he was not looking for regime change in Tehran.
Mr Trump gave no details about the progress, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed the meeting Iran had said it was prepared to negotiate about its missile programme.
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