Britain joining forces with US to protect merchant shipping from Iran after third tanker seized
Britain is joining forces with the US to protect shipping in the Gulf after Iran reportedly seized a third tanker, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has announced.
But the UK will not be taking part in sanctions against Tehran led by Donald Trump’s administration, stressing this was solely about the security of freight vessels in the Strait of Hormuz.
The MoD said the plans would not mean sending more warships to the region, with HMS Duncan and HMS Montrose already there, but would see the Royal Navy working alongside its American counterpart on escorting duty.
So far, 47 ships have been accompanied by naval vessels through the strategically vital shipping lane since the crisis began, officials said.
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."
It represents a pivot from the previous plan, set out by the former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, which was for the UK to organise a European-led naval contingent to protect merchant shipping.
But the new foreign secretary Dominic Raab was keen to point out this did not mean the UK was changing policy on Iran, and would remain committed to keeping the 2015 nuclear deal in place.
He said: "Our aim is to build the broadest international support to uphold freedom of navigation in the region, as protected under international law.
"Our approach to Iran hasn't changed. We remain committed to working with Iran and our international partners to de-escalate the situation and maintain the nuclear deal."
The Government was forced to act to protect vessels in the straits after the UK-flagged Stena Impero was boarded by the Iran's Revolutionary Guard last month in retaliation for the detention of an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar.
And on Monday the Iranians said they had another foreign tanker, an Iraqi ship accused of "smuggling fuel for some Arab countries", something that country denies.
If confirmed it would be the third taken in recent weeks as Tehran remains locked in a stand-off with Washington over sanctions.