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UK seeks European naval coalition to patrol Hormuz

With the US telling London it must handle the Stena Impero impasse by itself, the British government yesterday mooted the idea of a European naval coalition to safeguard merchant ships heading through the troubled Strait of Hormuz.

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt told parliament yesterday that Iran’s seizure of the UK-flagged Stena Impero in international waters was an “act of state piracy”. His counterpart in Iran had over the weekend said the same of the decision to send Royal Marines to take over the Iranian Grace 1 VLCC off Gibraltar.

“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,” Hunt said.

“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,” Hunt added.

Hunt stressed the maritime protection proposal would not involve contributing European military power to back the US’s position against Iran. The Trump administration has been trying to create an international naval coalition to patrol the waters off Iran too.

The proposed new European maritime protection mission “will not be part of the US maximum pressure policy on Iran because we remain committed to preserving the Iran nuclear agreement”, Hunt said.

The UK is now asking all Britain-flagged ships to give the government notice of intentions to pass through the Strait of Hormuz.

“We will then advise them as to the safest way to transit, which may involve travelling in convoy,” Hunt said.

In a joint note issued by leading trade associations on Monday, ship operators were requested to register with the Royal Navy’s liaison body, the United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations, and to provide their transit plans 24 to 48 hours before entering the region.

Details requested included the nationalities of crew members and any ship-speed constraints.

The last time Europe came together to enforce maritime stability was with the European Union Naval Force Atalanta (EU Navfor) launched in December 2008 to patrol the waters off piracy hotspot, Somalia.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


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