UK Joins U.S. Maritime Security Mission in Strait of Hormuz
In a turnaround, the UK has agreed to join an American-led maritime security mission for the Strait of Hormuz.
Under the government of former Prime Minister Theresa May, the UK foreign office had proposed an EU-led observation mission in the region. Now that May has been replaced by pro-Brexit Tory leader Boris Johnson, Britain is ready to join an American-led effort.
"The UK is determined to ensure her shipping is protected from unlawful threats and for that reason we have today joined the new maritime security mission in the Gulf," Defence Minister Ben Wallace said Monday. "We look forward to working alongside the U.S. and others to find an international solution to the problems in the Strait of Hormuz."
Last week, the South Korean government became the first to publicly sign on to the American plan for guarding merchant shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. A Korean destroyer will soon join U.S. Navy assets in the region, according to South Korean outlet Maekyung. Korea's navy already has a forward-deployed asset nearby, its Cheonghae anti-piracy unit, which is presently operating off Somalia.
Australia is giving “very serious consideration” to an American request to join the initiative, according to Australian defense minister Linda Reynolds, even though its national interests in the Strait of Hormuz are limited. Australia imports the overwhelming majority of its petroleum in the form of refined products from Asian refineries, which source oil globally.
Germany has explicitly ruled out any possibility of joining its NATO allies in the Persian Gulf. “The chancellor does not see a participation in a U.S-led mission in the current situation and at the current time - everyone in the German government agrees on that,” a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration told reporters Monday.
Shipping calls for calm
In a statement Friday, the International Chamber of Shipping joined the European Community Shipowners' Association and the Asian Shipowners' Association in calling for calm and adherence to the rule of law in the Strait of Hormuz.
The associations noted that the Stena Impero, the vessel seized by Iran on July 19, is an example of the international nature of shipping: she is a British flagged vessel owned by a Swedish company with a multinational crew, and was detained while transiting an international strait. Given the risk that this precedent sets for shipowners, ICS, ECSA and ASA called for a diplomatic solution and a return to normalcy.
"Merchant vessels engaged in international trade should not be subject to unlawful seizures or armed attacks. The Strait of Hormuz is an important route for European merchant vessels and we strongly urge EU member states to work with Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in order to safeguard this vital passageway," said ECSA Secretary General Martin Dorsman.
Costs go up
In addition to the business risk of the tensions in the strait, vessel operators face increased costs. Insurance rates for transits of the strait have risen abruptly, and UK-flagged vessels have been asked by their government not to transit it at all, or to use an escort convoy if they must transit.
For British vessels, there may also be an additional penalty: increased crew pay for war risks. The UK Warlike Operations Area Committee (WOAC) has designated the strait a "high risk area" effective August 2, giving seafarers on UK-flagged vessels a number of additional rights, including the right to de-crew from the ship instead of making the passage. Basic wages could also double for time spent in the zone.
Maritime union Nautilus International said that the clauses of the agreement are invoked if flag state and industry guidance is not complied with. This includes UK-flagged vessels that refuse a naval escort and vessels that do not follow guidance from industry bodies like OCIMF, INTERTANKO, BIMCO and ICS.