Amidst Iran Tensions, UK Resumes Naval Escorts for Strait of Hormuz

HMS Montrose and HMS Duncan (background) escort a tanker through the strait (Royal Navy)

Published Jan 5, 2020 6:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

With tensions between Iran and the U.S. rising after the killing of top Iranian military leader Maj. Gen Qassem Soleimani, the UK's ministry of defense has ordered the resumption of warship escorts for Red Ensign-flagged shipping in the Strait of Hurmuz. 

"I have instructed preparations for HMS Montrose and HMS Defender to return to accompanying duties of Red Ensign shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. The government will take all necessary steps to protect our ships and citizens at this time," said UK defense secretary Ben Wallace in a statement. "Yesterday I spoke to my U.S. counterpart Secretary Esper and we urged all parties to engage to de-escalate the situation."

Last year, British shipping received Royal Navy escort protection in the Strait of Hormuz in the wake of the Adrian Darya 1 affair. In July 2019, the UK detained the Iranian VLCC Adrian Darya 1 at Gibraltar, acting on suspicions that she was carrying Iranian crude to Syria. Two weeks later, Iranian forces captured the UK-flagged product tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz. The action prompted a call for UK shipping to avoid the strait if possible, and the Royal Navy implemented a formal, mandatory escort program for Red Ensign shipping in the area. 

The Impero was released in late September and the UK stood down its escorts in November. This time, Red Ensign-flagged vessels have the option of transiting the strait without a Royal Navy escort if they choose. 

Uncertain implications 

Maj. Gen. Soleimani was a prominent figure in Iranian political and military circles, and he was widely popular across a broad spectrum of Iranian society. The government has vowed to take "revenge" on American forces for the attack. In an interview with state media Sunday, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps deputy commander Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi said that that revenge would begin at a local and regional level with Iran's "resistance forces" - the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and other nations around the region. "Iran's retaliation will come in the second phase," he told Fars news. 

Iran says that it has identified 35 U.S. targets that it would like to hit in response to Soleimani's assassination. Gen. Gholamali Abuhamzeh, an IRGC commander in the southern province of Kerman, said that the target list included U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. 

Iran nuclear accord comes to an end

On Sunday, the government of Iran announced that it will no longer follow any of the limitations imposed on its nuclear program under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal. The agreement effectively brought Iranian nuclear enrichment activity to a halt for about four years. About one year after the U.S. left the accord and imposed unilateral sanctions on Iranian shipping and finance, Tehran began to depart from compliance, beginning with a breach of limitations on stockpile size. Its announcement Sunday marks the treaty's end. 

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will end its final limitations in the nuclear deal, meaning the limitation in the number of centrifuges. Therefore Iran’s nuclear program will have no limitations in production including enrichment capacity and percentage and number of enriched uranium and research and expansion," the Iranian government said in a statement.