There is a new joint naval mission focused in the Persian Gulf area. The new initiative scraps original plans for a sole Europe-led military alliance and now brings into line both UK and US operations and a more aggressive military attention on Iran. This to better help protect oil tankers transiting in and around the Strait of Hormuz. However, Britain is not joining current US sanctions against Iran.
The UK is working in a joint US-led international maritime security mission in the Middle East Gulf region that is aimed at restoring and protecting freedom of navigation through the Strait of Hormuz. The UK Royal Navy will command one of the task groups, but with the US is leading the mission.
Britain is reporting this latest military decision does not represent a change in their approach to Iran, as the UK remains committed to maintaining the 2015 nuclear deal agreed with Iran in return for an easing of sanctions. But this new joint military co-operation further aligns the UK with the US on foreign policy. The current mission further scuttles any plans for a standalone Europe-led coalition, which was first promoted by the then UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt on 22 July 2019 before the change in the prime minister office in July. Mr. Hunt’s successor, Mr. Dominic Raab, immediately requested other countries to join the coalition, but no country has yet offered commitments. Germany has already declined to join a US-led coalition. The US Naval Forces 5th Fleet is reportedly deployed in the Persian Gulf. This includes two aircraft carriers, 20 ships, 103 strike aircraft, approximately 20,000 sailors and marines. It is unclear the exact numbers stationed in the Middle East Gulf area.
Britain has deployed the destroyer, HMS Duncan, and a frigate HMS Montrose, in the Middle East Gulf and are working in close with two US cruiser destroyers. The two Royal Navy ships would be principally used to protect UK-flagged ships, but it is understood they may also accompany other vessels if available.
Iran has seized three vessels in the past four weeks, including the Stena Group-owned medium range merchant tanker (M/T) Stena Impero on 19 July 2019. This detention is in retaliation for the impounding of the Iran-controlled very large crude carrier (VLCC) Grace 1 on 4 July 2019 in waters off Gibraltar. M/T Stena Impero and its 23 crew remain stranded off the Port of Bandar Abbas. The capture of the most recent ship by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, on 4 August 2019, cannot be verified by the US 5th Fleet. No shipping company has claimed a ship as missing. The other ship, a small bunker tanker, taken last month, also accused of smuggling, has not been released. Arab states have been careful not to directly blame Iran for the attacks (except Saudi Arabia).
The identified task force points in coordinating several military forces with commercial shipping. Some 47 vessels have already been escorted by the joint forces. Lloyd’s of London report that in the first 27 days of July 2019, eighty-five (85) “interactions” with Iranian boats occurred and navy commanders described the current situation as “tense.”
Some 75% of energy commodities that transit the Strait of Hormuz ship to Asia, with UK-flagged (currently being targeted by the Iranians) tankers and gas carriers. The fleet comprising 19 of the 617 transits in July, according to data from Lloyd’s List Intelligence. Caution is offered to any vessel transiting in and around the Strait of Hormuz. Wapack Labs offered weekly Vessel Impersonation Warning report and Maritime Watchlist black lists. This information can help shippers better protect against malicious maritime cyber activity.
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