BRITAIN is to join a new US-led maritime security mission to protect international shipping in the Gulf, the Ministry of Defence has said.
The move follows the seizure last month by Iran of the UK-flagged tanker Stena Impero and fears further seizures could push an already tense situation into conflict.
The MoD said that the Royal Navy would be working with the United States Navy to assure the security of merchant shipping passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
The MoD said the mission would largely draw on assets already in the region including the warships HMS Duncan and HMS Montrose, which are already escorting UK – flagged ships.
The UK has also offered to lead one of the mission’s maritime task groups.
Since it began escorting UK-flagged vessels last month, the Royal Navy has conducted 47 of what the MoD called “group accompaniments” through the Strait of Hormuz.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The UK is determined to ensure her shipping is protected from unlawful threats and for that reason we have joined the new maritime security mission in the Gulf.
“The deployment of the Royal Navy assets is a sign of our commitment to our UK-flagged vessels and we look forward to working alongside the US and others to find an international solution to the problems in the Strait of Hormuz.”
Tension in the Gulf first began rising after Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran in the wake of the US abandoning the nuclear deal to restrict Tehran’s nuclear programme.
The US then began a military build up in the Gulf in response to an unspecified threat from Iran.
The announcement of the new security mission comes after the US called for a massive worldwide naval force to tackle Iran’s threats.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo called on Britain, Japan and other nations to join a US-led maritime force to protect international tankers.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard launched a gunboat and helicopter raid on the Stena Impero in response to Britain’s seizure of an Iranian vessel off Gibraltar.
The seizure of the Stena Impero was described as “state piracy” by the British government.
The Islamic Republic had warned the UK that the capture of the Grace 1 would not go “unanswered”.
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Britain has been seeking to put together a European-led maritime protection mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz.
A nuclear powered submarine and Royal Marine Commandos could also be sent to bolster defences.
The US has earlier this year threatened to impose the “strongest sanctions in history” against Iran.
Recent US and Iran tensions
- May 5: USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force is deployed in Middle East in response to ‘a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings’ by Iran.
- May 8: Iran vows to enrich its uranium stockpile if world powers fail to negotiate new terms for its nuclear deal. The US responds by imposing sanctions on Iran’s metals industry.
- May 10: The US says it will move a Patriot missile battery into the Middle East to counter threats from Iran.
- May 24: President Trump says the US will bolster its military presence in the Middle East with an additional 1,500 troops.
- May 12: The UAE says four commercial ships off its eastern coast “were subjected to sabotage operations,” just hours after Iranian and Lebanese media outlets air false reports of explosions at a nearby Emirati port.
- June 13: Two oil tankers are attacked in the Gulf of Oman – Washington blames Iran while Tehran denies involvement.
- June 18: US sends more than 1,000 additional troops to Middle East citing Iran’s ‘hostile behaviour’.
- July 19: Trump said a US warship had destroyed an Iranian drone that came too close – but Iran has denied losing a drone.
- June 20: Iran shoots down American ‘spy’ drone insisting the aircraft had flown over its airspace – a claim the US denied.
- June 24: Trump imposes additional sanctions on Iranian leaders, including on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
- July 3: Iran confirmed its threat to increase uranuium enrichment after Europe failed to respond to requests to ease financial pressure on Iran.
- July 19: Iran seized a UK-flagged oil tanker in strategic waters.
- July 20: The Pentagon said US troops are being deployed to Saudia Arabia to defend American interests from “emergent credible threats”, amid heightened tensions over the safety of shipping lanes in the Gulf.
- July 22: Iran says it has arrested 17 spies who it claims were working for the CIA, and sentenced some of them to death.
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