‘COBRA emergency meetings were held this morning and throughout the weekend. We must now take appropriate action to support the safe passage of vessels through the Strait of Hormuz,’ Tory Foreign Secretary Hunt told the House of Commons yesterday afternoon.
He said: ‘We made it clear to Iran that we would secure the release of their tanker if we could receive guarantees that that oil was not going to Syria.
‘However, when it comes to freedom of navigation there can be no compromise.’
On Friday the Iranians seized a British-flagged tanker stating they would release it as soon as the British release theirs.
Hunt continued: ‘Firstly, the Department of Transport has raised the threat level to British flagged ships to level three, advising against all passage through Iranian waters and for the moment the entire Strait of Hormuz.
‘Secondly, we will now seek to put together a European-led maritime protection mission to support safe passage of both crew and cargo in this vital region.
‘The new force will be focused on free navigation, bearing in mind that one fifth of the world’s oil – and a quarter of it liquified natural gas, trade worth half a trillion dollars – passes through the Strait of Hormuz.
‘It will not be part of the US maximum pressure policy on Iran,’ he claimed, ‘because we remain committed to preserving the Iran nuclear agreement.’
‘Thirdly, while we will seek to establish this mission as quickly as possible, the government has in the meantime dispatched HMS Duncan, a Type 45 Destroyer to take over from HMS Montrose, and she will arrive in the region on 29th July, a week from today.’
Asked whether the American Navy would be excluded from such a task force, Hunt said that the US would not be excluded and would be invited to be part of the force.
Fabian Hamilton, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Office Minister sitting in for the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said his party agrees with the Tories and that Iran’s actions ‘should be condemned’ and are ‘utterly unacceptable’.
The British seized the Iranian oil tanker at the beginning of the month, claiming that it was in ‘violation of the European Union’s sanctions against Syria.’
The Grace 1 supertanker was carrying 2.1 million barrels of oil and is currently being held in Gibraltar.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said yesterday: ‘Arguments cited by the Iranian side to explain its actions are much more convincing than vague references to the European Union’s sanction law that were used by the Gibraltar authorities, with the United Kingdom’s backing, at the moment of the arrest of a Panama-flagged tanker carrying Iranian oil.
‘Iran’s arguments are much more right than those of Gibraltar and London who are indulging in piracy.’
The British side have been unable to produce any proof that the tanker was Syria-bound.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry says it has identified and destroyed a ring of spies operating on behalf of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) inside the country.
The ministry said on Monday that it had captured 17 professional spies working on behalf of the CIA against Iran throughout last year. Some of the agents have been given capital punishment.
All the suspects in question were arrested by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence, the Fars News Agency reported.
They were working as private contractors ‘in the economic, nuclear, infrastructural, military and cyber areas … where they collected classified information,’ the report said.
The escalating tension between Iran and the US began to mount after the US unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal last year and reinstated tighter economic sanctions on Tehran.