Middle East Shipping Stabilized by UK Navy, Says Fleet Commander

Credit: LPhot Rory Arnold
Pictured here is Type 23 Frigate HMS MONTROSE (front) and Type 45 Destroyer HMS DUNCAN (rear) escorting the Tanker HELLESPONT PRIDE through international shipping lanes in the Gulf. 
Nearly six million tonnes of British shipping has been safeguarded by the Royal Navy in the first two months of protecting vessels from Iranian aggression.
Nearly 90 British merchant ships were safely shepherded through the Strait of Hormuz by frigate HMS Montrose and destroyer HMS Duncan during a hectic two months responding to threats by Teheran.
Montrose passed through the narrow gateway to the Gulf 38 times – each time harassed by Iranian forces, from radio taunts and drones watching every move overhead through to Revolutionary Guards wielding rocket launchers and fast missile boats racing up menacingly.
The Plymouth-based frigate, which completed the first phase of its escort duties on Thursday [AUG 29], was forced to fire flares on more than a dozen occasions as she warned off the Iranian forces.
The ship prevented the Iranians seizing the British Heritage, performing a ‘handbrake turn’ at full speed and training all her guns on the tanker’s harassers.
But just nine days later Iranian troops succeeded in hijacking the Stena Impero while Montrose was helping to protect other shipping half an hour away.

Britain’s decision to send warships to the Strait of Hormuz has helped to stabilize commercial shipping through the critical chokepoint weeks after Iran seized a UK-flagged tanker in the region, a top British navy official said on Thursday.

The UK-flagged tanker Stena Impero was detained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19 for alleged marine violations two weeks after Britain had detained an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar. That vessel was released in August.

Vice Admiral Jerry Kyd, the Royal Navy’s Fleet Commander, said it had “committed quite a few ships, aircraft and other capabilities to the Strait of Hormuz area because it’s a live issue.”

“We have deployed assets for the very reason to stabilize,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of the London International Shipping Week conference.

“I am really confident that we are in a good space. We are not letting our guard or our vigilance down.”

The Royal Navy last week said that nearly 90 British merchant ships – representing close to 6 million tonnes of cargo – had been “safely shepherded” through the Strait of Hormuz by its warships over the past two months.

It said the HMS Montrose frigate was forced to fire flares on more than a dozen occasions to warn off Iranian forces.

“We are there to assure the sanctity of international law and regulation and we will stay there, of course, for as long as we need,” said Kyd, who is responsible for commanding all the Royal Navy’s operational elements.

“We are the British Royal Navy and we look to support and protect our own ships.”

Several international merchant vessels have been attacked in the Gulf this year in incidents that have rocked world commodities trading. Washington blames Iran, which denies the accusation.

Iran has denounced U.S. efforts to set up a coalition and says that countries in the region can protect waterways and work towards signing a non-aggression pact. The UK is among countries who have already joined the U.S.-driven initiative.

GPS DISRUPTION

While it did not mention Iran directly, the U.S. military’s Central Command last month said that ships had reported interference to their GPS navigation systems when sailing through the Strait of Hormuz region as well as jamming of other onboard communications “with little to no warning.”

Kyd said there was an “absolute threat to safe navigation” from GPS interference in areas such as the Middle East Gulf, the Mediterranean and Baltic regions.

“We are seeing much more state and non-state actors getting involved in things like GPS denial … to make navigation harder,” he said.

“It’s something that all shipping and all the maritime community needs to be alive to.”

[reuters]

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