Military representatives from the UK, US and European nations are expected to meet today (Wednesday) to discuss how to safeguard shipping through the strait of Hormuz.
Whitehall sources told The Guardian attendees at the meeting in Bahrain would be looking to prevent future tanker seizures by Iran, following the capture of a British tanker two weeks ago.
Sources added a proposal for a European-led mission to prevent seizures was still intact, despite the dismissal of Jeremy Hunt as foreign minister in prime minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle.
On 19 July, Iran seized the Stena Impero, a British-flagged tanker, in the Strait of Hormuz. According to Iran’s state-owned news agency, the tanker was seized due to a collision with an Iranian fishing boat.
Stena Bulk, owners of the tanker, said there was no evidence of a collision and the vessel was “well within the inbound traffic separation scheme and out-with Iranian territorial waters” at the time of the seizure.
At the beginning of the month, UK Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker near Gilbralter which was suspected of breaking EU sanctions by carrying oil to Syria.
Earlier this week, the UK’s Ministry of Defence confirmed that it had sent a second naval ship, HMS Duncan, to the region to accompany British-flagged ships through the strait and to provide reassurance to the shipping industry.
The HMS Duncan and HMS Montrose will be operating in an area of 19,000 nautical miles to secure the route.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace said: “Merchant ships must be free to travel lawfully and trade safely, anywhere in the world.
“While we continue to push for a diplomatic resolution that will make this possible again without military accompaniment, the Royal Navy will continue to provide a safeguard for UK vessels until this is the reality.”
Earlier this month, the US Department of State (DoS) and Department of Defense held a discussion on a Maritime Security Initiative and how nations could contribute to promote greater peace and security in the Middle East.
“One fifth of the world’s oil supply transits through this area and navigating freely through the strait is critical for the stability of the international economy. A multinational effort is needed to address this global challenge and ensure the safe passage of vessels”, a DoS spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, the US Central Command announced it is developing a multinational maritime effort, Operation Sentinel, “to increase surveillance of and security in key waterways in the Middle East to ensure freedom of navigation”.
“The goal of Operation Sentinel is to promote maritime stability, ensure safe passage, and de-escalate tensions in international waters throughout the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Oman,” it said.
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