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UK joins U.S. for maritime security mission in Gulf

UK joins U.S. for maritime security mission in Gulf
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Written by Maritime First

…Shortly after Iran seizes third foreign vessel***

Britain on Monday joined the U.S. in a maritime security mission in the Gulf to protect merchant vessels traveling through the Strait of Hormuz after Iran seized a British-flagged vessel.

British officials stressed that there was no change to London’s policy on Iran but joining the U.S. is the most significant non-Brexit foreign policy move to date of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 12-day-old government.

Just two weeks ago, Britain was calling for a European-led naval mission.
Now, it has joined what it said was a U.S.-led “international maritime security mission’’. No other nations are yet involved.
“It is vital to secure the freedom for all international shipping to navigate the Strait of Hormuz without delay, given the increased threat,” said British Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace.

“The deployment of Royal Navy assets is a sign of our commitment to our UK flagged vessels and we look forward to working alongside the U.S. and others to find an international solution to the problems in the Strait of Hormuz.”

Tanker traffic through the Strait – through which a fifth of the world’s oil passes – has become the focus for a standoff between Iran and the U.S., which has beefed up its military presence in the Gulf since May.

In July, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized a British tanker, Stena Impero, near the Strait of Hormuz for alleged marine violations.

That came two weeks after Britain seized an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar, accusing it of violating sanctions on Syria.

Also read: Iran claims it has seized third oil tanker in Gulf as tensions with US rise

The tanker dispute has tangled the UK in the diplomatic differences between the EU’s big powers – which want to preserve the Iran nuclear deal – and the U.S. which has pushed for a tougher policy on Iran.

“Our approach to Iran hasn’t changed,” British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said.

“We remain committed to working with Iran and our international partners to de-escalate the situation and maintain the nuclear deal.”

A British source said the focus of the new mission would be protecting the security of shipping and Britain would not be joining U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Another British source said London hoped the U.S.-led mission would transition toward a European-led mission.

The UK has also offered to lead one of the U.S.-led mission’s maritime task groups.

No other nations have signed up to the U.S. mission.

Britain has deployed a destroyer HMS Duncan and a frigate HMS Montrose to the Gulf to accompany UK-flagged vessels through the strait.

So far, 47 ships have been accompanied by the naval vessels, British officials said.

Later this year, another Type 23 Frigate, HMS Kent, will take over from HMS Duncan, while HMS Montrose completes planned maintenance.

HMS Montrose will remain stationed in the Middle East until 2022.

Earlier on Monday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif said Tehran would no longer tolerate “maritime offences” in the strait.

It has threatened to block all exports via the Strait, through which a fifth of global oil traffic passes, if other countries comply with U.S. pressure to stop buying Iranian oil.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) reportedly seized a foreign oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, saying it was suspected of fuel smuggling.

Iranian state media cited officials as saying that the tanker, that was taken into custody on August 4, was carrying around 700,000 liters of fuel.

Reports suggest that seven crew members were detained from the Iraqi ship that was carrying the cargo to “some Arab countries.” The vessel was seized near Iran’s Farsi Island, north of the Strait of Hormuz, after coordination and the issuing of an order by judiciary officials.

It was reported to have been taken to Bushehr Port in south-western Iran and its fuel handed over to the authorities.

Though no further details about the vessel and its crew were provided, the seizure instantly, increased tensions, coming shortly, after the U.S. tightened sanctions on Iran’s oil sector, imposed after Washington’s withdrawal from a 2015 nuclear deal.

If confirmed, the Iraqi tanker would be the third foreign vessel to have been seized by Iran in recent weeks.

In mid-July, the Iranian coastguard detained the Panama-flagged MT Riah during naval patrols launched in order to discover organized smuggling operations. Later the same month, Iran seized the British-flagged tanker the Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz, saying it had collided with a fishing vessel.

 

 

 

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