Britain Seeks European-Led Protection in Strait of Hormuz as Johnson Takes Helm

U.K. Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is seeking to put together a European-led maritime protection vessel to support safe passage of crew and cargo in the Strait of Hormuz.

On July 19 Iranian authorities seized the British-flagged vessel, Stena Impero, in Omani waters. At the time, Hunt said it was clear that Iran saw it as a “tit-for-tat situation”, following the Iranian-flagged Grace 1 being detained in Gibraltar.

Hunt said Grace 1 was detained legally in Gibraltar’s waters because it was carrying oil against EU sanctions, to Syria.

“The Stena Impero was seized in Omani waters in clear contravention of international law. It was then forced to sail into Iran. This is totally and utterly unacceptable,” the Foreign Secretary added.

The U.K. Mission to the United Nations in New York, on behalf of the U.K. government, sent a letter to the President of the United Nations Security Council setting out the facts about the incident.

On July 21 Hunt called his counterparts in France and Germany who agreed that safe passage through the Strait of Hormuz is a top priority for European nations, while avoiding escalation in the region.

Now, Hunt has underlined further action to protect vessels in the region. After speaking with several European countries this week, Hunt is calling for a European-led protection operation. He also said the U.K. is not looking to join the U.S. plan for fear of scuppering the nuclear agreement.

Hunt’s plea to Europe may fall on deaf ears as Britain’s new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is a prominent Brexiteer, bullish about leaving the EU with or without a deal, and not welcomed with open arms in Europe. To further muddy the waters, Johnson’s opponent in the race for leadership was none other than Jeremy Hunt.

Johnson said in his acceptance speech on July 23 that he intends to “steal [Hunt’s] ideas”. However, Johnson is yet to appoint his cabinet and Hunt may find himself out of the Foreign Office and possibly even out of the cabinet altogether. Given developing concerns, in the Strait of Hormuz and elsewhere, it would make sense to retain key staff including the Foreign Secretary, but Johnson is known for playing a curve ball.

All of this leaves the potential of a European-led protection operation in the Strait of Hormuz up in the air. Europe will certainly be less enamored with Britain under Johnson’s leadership, but it is hoped that global security will overcome personal and political differences.

In the meantime, Britain will now ask all British-flagged ships to give the government notice of intentions to pass through the Strait of Hormuz. They will then be advised as to the safest way to transit, which may involve travelling in convoy. Hunt said Britain would also strengthen measures to protect ships flying the flags of other countries but which had British crew, but warned “it is of course not possible for the Royal Navy to provide escorts for every single ship or indeed eliminate all risks of piracy”.

Kylie Bielby has 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. She is an editor and contributor for Jane's by IHS Markit, a columnist for security and counter-terror publications, and a former managing editor for Homeland Security Today.

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