Britain must seek to reduce tension but its first duty is to protect ships and crews
Sat 20 Jul 2019
The boarding and holding of the tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar, while allegedly carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria, in breach of European Union sanctions regime, was clearly going to provoke a response. Indeed, the Tehran regime clearly articulated the fact that they would do something in retaliation.
Having already carried out a number of attacks on international tankers in and around the strait of Hormuz, a week ago, an attempt was made to take a British-flag registered ship, the BP British Heritage. It was only thwarted by the close presence of HMS Montrose.
The UK issued a warning to British-registered shipping to avoid the area and raised the threat level. But this was not good enough. We should have enacted control of shipping procedures, directing ships to assemble in safe areas and then taken them through in convoy.
Even with only one major warship in the Gulf this could have been done until reinforcements arrived – although the Royal Navy is disgracefully short of ships.
Instead, we seem to have been oblivious to the fact that one of our ships was steaming on to become a hostage to fortune. It now transpires that Iranian forces have taken control of the British-flagged Stena Impero and its 23-strong crew, while the tanker was in Omani waters.
So, where do we go now?
The Grace 1 is held off Gibraltar for another 30 days and I do not believe Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, is legally allowed to release the ship to Iran, even if the Iranians do promise the ship will not go to Syria, whatever that promise would be worth.