TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Iran on Friday called on Britain to immediately release an Iranian supertanker seized off the coast of Gibraltar last week, warning British authorities against playing a "dangerous and unclear” game and urging Western powers to leave the region.
"We call on (Britain) to release the oil tanker as soon as possible, because it would be in the interests of everyone,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in an interview with the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
He questioned the legal basis for the ship’s detention by Britain’s Royal Marines in the Mediterranean last week.
Authorities said that it was carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil and to a refinery in the Syrian port in violation of European Union sanctions. Iranian officials have denied that the vessel was bound for Syria
Mousavi said Tehran believes that the supertanker, Grace 1, was seized at the request of the United States. Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borell also said last week that Gibraltar detained the ship following a U.S. appeal.
"Our question to British authorities is: Has the EU imposed oil sanctions on Iran?” Mousavi said.
"The claims are without legal basis and we advise (Britain) not to start a dangerous and unclear game under the influence of the Americans,” Mousavi said.
The confrontation over the Iranian tanker comes amid broader suspicious provocations in the Persian Gulf, including a recent spate of attacks on commercial vessels in the region.
Britain said Thursday that Iranian vessels attempted to block the oil tanker British Heritage near the Strait of Hormuz but were repelled by a British naval escort.
The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) dismissed the claim that its naval forces tried to stop the British tanker.
The British government said Friday that the destroyer HMS Duncan was being deployed to the region, replacing the HMS Montrose.
The news comes after outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May said she would begin talks with U.S. authorities on increasing a transatlantic presence in the region.
The UK already has four mine-hunting vessels stationed in the region, and former naval commanders, including Admiral Lord West, have warned the UK only has eight frigates on patrol.
The UK has raised the security level for British ships in the Persian Gulf to the highest state of alert.
The decision to raise the threat level to 3, or "critical," was made on Tuesday, according to UK media reports.
A security level of 3 is put in place when and where the risk of an attack on a UK ship is assessed to be critical, according to International Ship and Port Facility (ISPS) security code.
Britain is "not seeking to escalate the situation with Iran," said UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt after the deployment was announced.
"None of us are looking for a conflict. And we all have a responsibility to protect shipping, this is a time for cool heads," he said in a press briefing Friday.
Mousavi, however, said the growing foreign military presence in the Persian Gulf was contributing to instability and "should be considered a danger to everyone”.
The ship’s captain and chief officer were arrested by the Gibraltarian authorities on Thursday after the vessel was searched for more than a week.
Iran has accused the UK of piracy summoning the British ambassador to Tehran, Robert Macaire, four times in the past week.
Mousavi, said: "This is a dangerous game and we advise them not get involved in this game under America’s influence.”
Senior cleric Kazem Sediqi said, "The British will soon get a slap from the strong arms of our establishment for their daring, reckless and negligent act that will make them regret it for good.”
Mohamed ElBaradei, a former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, asked the UK not to get involved in U.S. plans for military convoys in the Persian Gulf.
Accusing the U.S. of behaving like a "bull in a china shop” and taking the world down a dead-end street, he said the confrontational approach of the White House was not going to solve the threat posed to the nuclear deal by the U.S. decision to withdraw from it.
Iran’s Mousavi said, "Foreign powers should leave the region because Iran and other regional countries are capable of securing the regional security.”
"...Iran has repeatedly expressed its readiness to hold talks with its neighbors to resolve disputes.”