By Jubin Katiraie
The UK called for the establishment of a European-led naval mission to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker on Friday in what Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt described as an act of “state piracy”.
Hunt outlined these plans to parliament after a meeting of the government’s emergency committee, COBRA, which discussed the response to the capture of the ship in Omani territorial waters.
Hunt said: “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. We will now seek to put together a European-led maritime protection mission to support the safe passage of both crew and cargo in this vital region.”
This signals a potential shift from the rest of Europe, who have so far been reluctant to increase their military presence in the Gulf, for fear of increasing confrontation, but Hunt has consulted with the foreign ministers of Oman, the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, Finland, Spain and Denmark in the matter.
Hunt assured the parliament that this would not involve using European military power to attack Iran because Europe ultimately still wants to protect the Iranian nuclear agreement that the US withdrew from in 2018.
Hunt said: “We do not seek confrontation. We have taken every available opportunity to deescalate the situation. Freedom of navigation is a principle that Britain and its allies will always defend.”
Europe tried to remain neutral but Britain was dragged in after Iran seized one of its tankers for no reason; likely in retribution for the UK detaining an Iranian tanker on July 4 for violating EU sanctions by shipping oil to Syria.
James Slack, the spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May, said Iran has seized a ship under illegal pretences and it needs to release it and the crew immediately.
Iran has released a video of the detained crew, where they appear to be safe, but the video is very staged; even showing them hoisting the Iranian flag so it’s not clear if the crew were under duress to film it.
The US, which has an aircraft carrier strike group in the Gulf, has said that it cannot protect shipping on its own.
Asked on Monday about the capture of the British ship, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “The responsibility … falls to the United Kingdom to take care of their ships.”