British special forces are helping to investigate a suspected Iranian attack on an Israeli-linked oil tanker in the Arabian Sea that left a UK national dead, Sky News understands.
The team, which is based in the region, was expected to have arrived on Monday at the as-yet undisclosed site where the MT Mercer Street vessel is located.
The deployment of a special forces team to assist in the response to the assault off the coast of Oman last Thursday is a sign of the sensitive nature of the investigation and the expertise required.
It came as Britain’s prime minister said Iran must “face up to the consequences” of its actions, while Tehran warned it would respond “promptly and strongly” to any threat against its security.
Iran has denied any involvement in the attack after the UK, the US and Israel directly accused it of carrying out the assault with one or more drones. Two people were killed – a British security guard on the vessel and a Romanian crew member.
Boris Johnson said: “This was clearly an unacceptable and outrageous attack on commercial shipping.”
The UK has promised a “concerted response”. Israel – which is already locked in a shadow conflict with Iran – called on Monday for international action.
In London, Iran’s ambassador to the UK, Mohsen Baharvand, was summoned to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office around midday over the incident.
He met with James Cleverly, the Foreign Office minister for the Middle East.
“Minister Cleverly reiterated that Iran must immediately cease actions that risk international peace and security, and reinforced that vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law,” a Foreign Office spokesperson said.
When an ambassador is summoned for a rebuke he or she typically meets with the permanent secretary. The fact that this meeting was with a minister was intended to reflect a heightened sense of outrage.
Zodiac Maritime, the Israeli-owned UK company that managed the Mercer Street tanker, has given no further update on the situation since Friday when it said the vessel was sailing under the control of its crew with a US naval escort to a “safe location”.
No pictures have yet emerged of the ship since it was hit. It is thought that a drone was crashed into bridge, killing the British guard and Romanian crew member.
It is the first known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions between Israel and Iran.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab accused Iran of carrying out a “deliberate, targeted” assault, which constituted “a clear violation of international law”, and has promised to work with allies on a “concerted response”.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also said he was considering “next steps” with the UK and other allies, with “an appropriate response… forthcoming”.
The meeting with Mr Cleverly follows a weekend of discussions among high-level officials on how best to respond to the incident.
The head of the British armed forces, General Sir Nick Carter, held discussions with his Israeli counterpart on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the government held a Cobra emergency meeting at the level of officials over the weekend in a sign of the serious focus on the tanker attack, Sky News understands.
There’s not yet been a Cobra attended by ministers, which is what happens in the gravest of crises.
The Foreign Office said the drone assault followed similar attacks on three other Israeli-linked ships in the region since February and there are concerns that tensions are increasing.
Iran in the past has repeatedly been accused of targeting tankers in the Gulf. The country has been locked in a tit-for-tat contest with Israel, with both sides accusing the other of targeting ships and launching cyber attacks.