UK Navy to escort tankers through strait amid Iran crisis

The UK Royal Navy says it will now accompany British-flagged oil tankers through the Strait of Hormuz in the wake of Iran’s seizure of a ship last week.

The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) said the move was a response to “the heightened threat to commercial shipping in the Gulf,” and guidance from the Department for Transport, which advised Friday that ships should not sail through the area.

“The Royal Navy has been tasked to accompany British-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz, either individually or in groups, should sufficient notice be given of their passage,” the MoD said.

“Freedom of navigation is crucial for the global trading system and world economy, and we will do all we can to defend it,” the MoD added.

The decision comes after Iran seized British-flagged Stena Impero oil tanker on Friday in the Strait of Hormuz, considered one of the world’s most vital waterways for global oil supply.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appeared to signal Wednesday that his country might be willing to release the vessel in exchange for the UK’s release of a detained Iranian tanker.

The UK and Gibraltar seized the Iran-flagged tanker Grace 1 in early July. UK authorities alleged the tanker was attempting to transport oil to Syria, a violation of EU sanctions.

The Stena Impero’s seizure is yet another in an accelerating series of recent maritime episodes involving Iran.

Last Thursday, the U.S. Navy destroyed an Iranian drone using electronic jamming, a U.S. defense official said. The crew of the USS Boxer took defensive action against the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle after it came close to the U.S. naval ship, the official said.

However, Iranian officials say none of their drones have been downed.

In another incident this month, armed Iranian boats tried unsuccessfully to impede the passage of a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, according to two U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the incident.

And in June, tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalated into a military standoff after an American drone was shot down by Iran over the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most vital shipping routes.