IRAN’s supreme leader has threatened Britain with retaliation over the “vicious” seizure of an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar.
As tensions escalate over the tanker row, it’s been revealed that the Royal Navy is set to send a third warship to the Persian Gulf this summer
It comes as an Iranian bomb boat was found in the path of a second British warship – the HMS Duncan – which is currently racing to the flashpoint.
Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accused Britain of “piracy” after the Royal Marines seized a supertanker believed to be carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria on July 5.
He has called for the immediate release of the oil tanker Grace 1, which was detained on suspicion it was breaking European sanctions by taking oil to Syria.
In a TV speech, the Ayatollah said: “Evil Britain commits piracy and steals our ship and gives it a legal appearance.
“Iran and those who believe in our system will not leave such vicious deeds unanswered.”
The comments were made as concerns grow about a UAE-based Gulf oil tanker, the MT Riah, which went missing in the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday.
Tracking data from the MT Riah last showed it heading for Iranian waters.
A US defence official said on Tuesday the US “has suspicions” the tanker has been seized by Iran.
Tensions between Iran and the UK have spiralled since the Iranian Grace 1 oil tanker was seized by the Royal Navy earlier this month off the coast of Gibraltar.
Iran has threatened to seize a British tanker in retaliation if the Grace 1 is not released.
Three Iranian boats also tried to seize a BP oil tanker as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz on Wednesday July 10.
Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose – which was escorting the tanker through the flashpoint region – was forced to sail in front of the boats.
After quickly training its 30mm deck guns on the enemy boats, deploying its Wildcat helicopter and issuing a radio warning, the Iranian boats scarpered.
HMS Duncan has since been deployed to patrol the busy shipping lane as all UK flagged vessels were put on the highest security alert level over fears of retaliation from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
BOMB BOAT ‘LYING IN WAIT’
But an Iranian bomb boat was found in its path, meaning the HMS Duncan could have been destroyed by the unmanned attack ship packed with explosives, the Mirror reports.
It was spotted by Saudi forces near to the destroyer’s route – currently heading to protect shipping in the Gulf.
The Mirror reports sources believe the armed ship, which can be steered remotely from four miles away, was sent out into the Red Sea by Iran’s Houthi allies before it was discovered.
Former naval officer Simon Warrington said: “The threat from the Houthis, who as Iran’s proxy militia do Tehran’s dirty work, is very real.”
Colonel Kemp, a former UK Armed Forces commander, had warned that while Grace 1 remained in custody in Gibraltar, Iran would continue to seek revenge and the Royal Navy needed to be prepared to respond.
ROYAL NAVY SENDS THIRD WARSHIP
The MoD today announced a further Type 23 frigate, HMS Kent will be deployed 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.
The HMS Kent underwent a £24million upgrade in 2012 including a revamp of her complex weapons systems.
Key upgrades include a new 4.5-inch (114mm) medium-range gun plus new 30mm close-range guns on her port and starboard sides.
She also had a new command system, target control radars and new towed array sonar fitted.
Iran had earlier been blamed for a series of devastating sea mine attacks on US-linked oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz.
And last month, Donald 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 has been squaring up to the West as it reels over the scrapping of the so-called nuclear deal by the US.