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Ex-British Official Describes Capture of UK Ship by Tehran as ‘Major Failure’ by London

TEHRAN The United States offered to help Britain protect UK-registered ships in the Persian Gulf before a tanker was seized by Iran, a former government minister claimed, describing the seizure by Tehran as a 'major failure' by London.

Ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith stated that Washington had offered the use of "assets" in the hotpoint region before the Stena Impero was seized by Iranian elite forces on Friday.

"I think there are genuine questions to be raised right now about the British Government's behaviour, I say this as a supporter of the Government," Smith told the BBC's Andrew Marr show.

"They were not taken up at the point and I want to know why, with only one ship as it appears there, and no accelerated attempt at assets," he asked, noting that "this is a major failure and the Government has to answer that charge very quickly indeed".

It came after a top defense minister warned it was "impossible" for the United Kingdom to protect every ship in the Persian Gulf as he demanded more money for the Royal Navy. Tobias Ellwood denied that the UK had taken its "eye off the ball" and stated the Government was looking at a "series of options" after Tehran seized the UK-flagged tanker.

Appearing on Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday this morning, Ellwood said the UK had three or four warships going through 100 nautical miles of waterway every day, adding, "It is impossible simply to escort each individual vessel."

Ellwood also called for more money to be invested in defence if Britain wants to continue to play a role on the international stage, saying, "If we want to continue playing a role on the international stage - bearing in mind that threats are changing - all happening just beneath the threshold of all-out war, then we must invest more in our defence, including our Royal Navy."

"Our Royal Navy is too small to manage our interests across the globe if that's our future intentions and that's something the next prime minister will need to recognise," he added.

The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) impounded Stena Impero on Friday when it was passing through the Strait of Hormuz en route to Saudi Arabia "for failing to respect international maritime rules.

"UK tanker ship, Stena Impero, has been detained by the vessels unit of the IRGC Navy's First Naval Zone at the request of the Ports and Maritime Organization's office of Hormuzgan province for disregarding international maritime rules and regulations as it was passing through the Strait of Hormuz this afternoon," the statement by the IRGCN public relations said.

The statement added that the ship had been escorted to the Iranian coastal waters in Hormuzgan province and its control had been transferred to the Ports and Maritime Organization for further legal procedures and investigations.

Director General of the Ports and Maritime Organization's office of Hormuzgan province Allah Morad Afifipour stated Saturday that the British oil tanker was seized because it ignored calls from a fishing boat after an accident in the waterway.

"The British oil tanker, Stena Impero, had an accident with a fishing boat on its way and according to the law, the reason and other issues related to the accident should be studied," Afifipour told FNA.

He added that sailors on the damaged fishing boat had contacted the British vessel, but the tanker had ignored their calls.

"When the British vessel did not respond to the fishing vessel, they informed Ports and Maritime Organization's office of Hormuzgan province according to the legal procedures," Afifipour said, noting that his office had requested the Judiciary and the IRGC to stop the British tanker.

In early July, British marines and Gibraltar police seized an Iranian tanker off the Southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo claimed that the ship was transporting crude oil to Syria in violation of the EU sanctions placed on Damascus. Washington has applauded the move, hailing it as a sign that Europe is on board with the US' unilateral sanctions against Iran.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry condemned the illegal move of London and described it as tantamount to piracy. Tehran accused the UK of doing Washington's bidding and helping the US attempt to stifle the Islamic Republic's oil exports, rejecting London's claim that the supertanker was carrying crude for Syria.

The attorney general announced on Friday that Gibraltar's supreme court has ruled that the Iranian tanker seized by Britain's Royal Marines can be detained for 30 more days. The court's decision came a day after a senior Gibraltar's official described as constructive talks with Iran, raising hopes that the tanker would be released imminently.

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei has slammed Britain's illegal seizure of the oil tanker, warning London of a pending response to the seizure of the supertanker that he referred to as a case of "piracy".

On Thursday, naval forces of the IRGC seized a foreign ship smuggling fuel in the Persian Gulf, according to a statement by the public relations office of the IRGC Navy's first zone. The foreign vessel was smuggling a million liters of fuel from Iran and was seized in Iranian waters South of Lark island. Yet, a statement issued by the IRGC on Thursday denied that any other foreign ship had been seized during the last week as claimed by the western media. The statement reiterated that the ship had been seized for "smuggling fuel from Iran", and no other reason.

The recent moves by foreign powers in the Middle East such as US sanctions on Tehran's oil, UK seizure of Iranian supertanker, as well as, "sabotage operations" on oil ships have intensified the turmoil in the region and the turmoil in the international energy market, affecting global crude prices in recent months.

Source: Fars News Agency