Britain to form maritime posse to fight Iranian 'state piracy'
The UK’s Defence Secretary said that the Royal Navy was too small to defend all of Britain’s interests abroad. (Crown Copyright: Joel Rouse)
Britain will create a European-led maritime protection mission to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz after Iran seized a British-flagged vessel in what London said was an act of “state piracy”.
- The British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero was seized by Iran on Friday
- Audio released on Sunday detailed how the Royal Navy was unable to stop the seizure
- Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the move did not align with harsh US policy on Iran
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the Stena Impero in the Strait on Friday. British Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar two weeks ago.
“Under international law Iran had no right to obstruct the ship’s passage — let alone board her. It was therefore an act of state piracy,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told parliament.
“We will now seek to put together a European-led maritime protection mission to support safe passage of both crew and cargo in this vital region,” Mr Hunt said.
He said Britain has had constructive discussions with a number of countries in the last 48 hours over the mission.
The move comes after Britain’s Defence Secretary Tobias Ellwood acknowledged that the Royal Navy — once the world’s largest — was “too small” to manage Britain’s global interests.
But the official spokesperson for outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May, James Slack, denied cuts have made the Royal Navy too small.
“We have the largest military budget in Europe, and we are investing in a world-class Royal Navy,” he said.
UK plan doesn’t align with US’s ‘maximum pressure’ policy
Mr Hunt also said he would discuss how the maritime mission would complement US proposals in the area but that Britain would not join the US plan as it wanted to preserve a nuclear deal reached with Iran.
World powers including France, Germany, China and Russia agreed to ease economic sanctions on Iran in 2015 in exchange for the country curbing its nuclear program.
The Trump administration took the US out of the agreement in 2018 and subsequently imposed harsh sanctions on the country — a decision that the former UK ambassador to the US said was done to spite former President Barack Obama.
“It will not be part of the US maximum pressure policy on Iran because we remain committed to preserving the Iran nuclear agreement,” Mr Hunt said.
Britain will now ask all British-flagged ships to give the government notice of intentions to pass through the Strait of Hormuz, Hunt said.
“We will then advise them as to the safest way to transit, which may involve travelling in convoy,” Mr Hunt said, adding that Britain would also strengthen measures to protect ships flying the flags of other countries but which had British crew.
“It is of course not possible for the Royal Navy to provide escorts for every single ship or indeed eliminate all risks of piracy,” Hunt said.
“But the risks can be substantially reduced if commercial shipping companies cooperate fully with instructions from the Department of Transport, which we strongly encourage them to do.”