Defence chiefs ordered the £1 billion HMS Duncan to break from NATO exercises in the Black Sea and head to the Strait of Hormuz to protect UK-flagged oil tankers. The Type 45 destroyer, which is equipped with missiles and carries the latest anti-submarine technology as well as elite Royal Marine Commandos and a Merlin helicopter, will join HMS Montrose. Last week HMS Montrose used its guns on boats suspected to belong to Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps when they tried to impede an oil tanker owned by BP as it moved onto the strait.
The Strait is a critical gateway to the world’s oil industry, with more than a fifth of global oil supply flowing through a narrow sea channel, and it has become the main focus of mounting tension between Iran and the West.
The increase in Britain’s military commitment comes as Tehran demands the release of oil tanker, Grace 1, which was seized by British Royal Marines earlier this month amid evidence it was carrying oil to Syria.
Mr Hunt tweeted last night that he had spoken to his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Zarif and said it could be allowed to depart there was an assurance its cargo would not be delivered to Syria.
He said: “Just spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. Constructive call. I reassured him our concern was destination not origin of the oil on Grace One & that UK would facilitate release if we received guarantees that it would not be going to Syria, following due process in Gib courts.
“Was told by FM Zarif that Iran wants to resolve issue and is not seeking to escalate. Also spoke to @FabianPicardo who is doing an excellent job co-ordinating issue and shares UK perspective on the way forward.”
But Colonel Richard Kemp, a former UK Armed Forces commander, warned last night that Iran would continue to seek revenge and the Royal Navy needed to be prepared.
He told the Mail on Sunday: “The next time there is a stand-off in the Persian Gulf, the Royal Navy must send the strongest possible signal to Iran.”
Colonel Kemp, who has chaired the UK’s Cobra emergency response committee, added: “Unquestionably it is a matter of when, rather than if, Iran launches another attack.
“Only if they are met with very stiff resistance will they get the message.”
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