THE captain of a Royal Navy frigate in the Gulf has told of the ‘soul-destroying’ moment an Iranian officer taunted him after storming Stena Impero and declaring: ‘She’s mine now.’
HMS Montrose was just 500 yards from Iranian waters and could see the dimming lights of the British-flagged vessel when it received the radio message from an Iranian officer.
Commander Will King, Montrose’s captain, has now spoken of the moment he realised Stena Impero was lost.
‘As soon as she headed north into Iranian territorial waters, I could do nothing. Soul-destroying, really,’ said Cdr King as he recalled the incident five weeks earlier. ‘You could almost hear the elation on their side. It was like a sick competition.’
The Stena Impero, crewed mainly by Indians, was legally travelling through disputed waters when a team of Iranian special forces soldiers rappelled on to it from a helicopter and seized the vessel.
The move, on July 19, came following the seizure of the Iranian Grace I tanker by Royal Marines in Gibraltar days earlier after documents showed it was destined for Syria in breach of international sanctions.
Since the beginning of July, Montrose has faced 115 interaction with Iranian forces in the Gulf.
Cdr King, 41, admitted the Revolutionary Guards Corps had ‘heavily’ tested his crew with fast-attack craft and drones on a near daily basis.
The father-of-two added the actions by the Iranians were ‘certainly intimidating’.
Commodore Dean Bassett, the most senior Royal Navy officer in the Gulf, told The Times Britain is to increase its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance there.
He said: ‘In the last couple of months we’ve seen a dramatic change to the security in the area.’
Montrose has recently been joined by Portsmouth-based destroyer HMS Duncan and two other city warships, HMS Kent and HMS Defender, are en route.
Cdr King said his biggest fear now is that an incident in the narrow shipping lane would become a ‘knife fight in a phone box’.
Speaking to The Daily Mail, he warned things could escalate quickly and said: ‘You’ve got a load of people with machine guns pointing at each other, that are effectively 300 yards away from each other.
‘That’s the big worry, the miscalculation that comes from that.’