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London sending third warship to Persian Gulf to protect British-flagged ships

HMS Defender (Dirtsc/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Britain says it is sending a third warship to the Persian Gulf to defend freedom of navigation in the tense region.

“Wherever the red ensign flies around the world, the UK stands by to protect freedom of navigation whenever is it tested,” Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said on August 24.

The Foreign Ministry said the HMS Defender will join the Montrose and Kent warships, which have already been deployed to the region to protect British-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most important shipping lanes.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called for an international effort to escort vessels to defend commercial shipping interests in the Persian Gulf against harassment and illegal interference, meeting with support from the Britain and from some other Western and Gulf state officials.

Washington blames Iran or Iranian-linked proxies for a series of attacks on shipping in the world’s most important oil-transit route in the past two months. Tehran has denied the accusations.

Iranian officials, who have routinely said the Strait of Hormuz is under their close watch, said recently that “outside presences” in the region can destabilize matters.

Marine General Joseph Dunford, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on July 9 that the United States was attempting to form a military coalition to safeguard strategic shipping lanes off Iran and Yemen amid raised tensions with Tehran.

Under the plan, the Pentagon would provide command and surveillance assets for the coalition.

Allied nations joining the coalition would patrol waters near the U.S. command ships and escort commercial vessels with their nation’s flags through the heavily traveled waters between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.

Tensions have risen between London and Tehran since British Royal Marines seized an Iranian oil tanker on July 4 on suspicion it was carrying oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.

The tanker was eventually allowed to leave after giving assurances that it would not travel to Syria. It is now somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea and apparently headed for Turkey.

The United States has issued a warrant to seize the tanker on the grounds that it had links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which it designates as a terrorist organization.

Following the British action, IRGC stormed and detained the British-flagged Stena Impero and its 23 crew as they sailed through the Strait of Hormuz on July 20.

These and other shipping disputes have come amid rising tensions between Iran and the West, particularly the United States, and have included several additional incidents in and around the Persian Gulf, which sees around one-fifth of international oil shipments.