After a crisis meeting headed by Prime Minister Theresa May and consultations with European allies, the United Kingdom is due to announce Monday its response to Iran’s detention of a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.
“The ship was seized under false and illegal pretexts and the Iranians must release it and its crew immediately”, the spokesman said on Monday.
“We’re not looking for a confrontation with Iran, but the seizure of a ship doing legal work on internationally recognized shipping routes is unacceptable”, he said.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Monday that his country would seek to form a European naval protection force in the Gulf after Iran seized a British tanker while crossing the Strait of Hormuz, stressing at the same time that London is not seeking confrontation with Iran.
“We’ll now seek to set up a European maritime protection mission to ensure the safe passage of crews and cargoes in this vital area”, Hunt told British lawmakers.
“We’ll seek to form this force as soon as possible, and it will not be part of the policy of American pressure on Iran”.
He described Friday’s incident as “a pirate act of state”.
A British warship in the region, HMS Montrose, tried to warn Iranian forces about the ship and rushed to the site, but it arrived late and was unable to help.
Hunt said the other British warship HMS Duncan, which will be sent to the region, will arrive on July 29.
He confirmed that all British flag vessels will be required to give British authorities a notice of their planned passage in the Strait of Hormuz “to enable us to provide the best possible protection”.
“Of course, it’s not possible for the Royal Navy to accompany every ship or eliminate all the dangers of piracy”, he said.
Iranian government spokesman Ali Rubaie said Iran’s seizure of the oil tanker was a “legal measure” necessary to “ensure regional security”.
The crisis comes under highly sensitive political conditions for the British, as Teresa May, who didn’t succeed in implementing Brexit, left her post on Wednesday.
The conservative leader held a cabinet meeting at Downing Street at 9:30 am to discuss the issue of “maintaining the safety of navigation in the Gulf” in particular.
The foreign minister and the candidate to succeed May, Jeremy Hunt, said that the executive branch is supposed to inform parliament on Monday of the “measures” the United Kingdom intends to take.
Hunt on Sunday held talks with his French and German counterparts, who agreed that “security of passage of ships from the Strait of Hormuz is an absolute priority for European countries”, according to the British Foreign Office.
On measures the United Kingdom might take, Defense Minister Tobias Elwood said, “We’ll consider a series of options”, without giving further details.
“We’re already imposing a wide range of sanctions against Iran, especially financial sanctions, so it is not clear that there are other direct measures we can take”, he said in an interview with the BBC”.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards detained Friday a Swedish-owned Swedish-owned vessel, Stina Impero, for failing to respect the “International Law of the Sea”, a novel rejected by the British.
The ship and its 23 crew members are being held off the southern Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.
Her detention came hours after a court in Gibraltar, British territory in the southernmost part of Spain, extended the detention of the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 for 30 days.
It is suspected that the ship was carrying oil to Syria, which is a violation of European sanctions against it, but Iran denies it.
It was captured by British troops on July 4.
The arrest of Stina Impero and the inability of the British to prevent such a debate within the United Kingdom over its military power have revived.
“Undoubtedly, the reduction of the Royal Navy since 2005 and the reduction of its destroyers and frigates from 31 to 19 today have had an impact on our ability to protect our interests around the world”, retired Commodore Alex Burton said in an interview with the BBC.
Many also wonder about the motives for the detention of Grace 1, which was “requested” by the United States, according to Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell.
“What British politicians and officials were thinking when they gave the green light” to detain Grace 1, journalist Patrick Cockburn asked the Middle East correspondent for The Independent.
“Did they really believe that the Iranians will not take revenge for what they see as a serious escalation in the American economic war against them?”
Tehran and Washington have been strained since the United States unilaterally withdrew in May 2018 from a nuclear deal that sets limits to Iran’s nuclear program in 2015.
The Gulf region and the Strait of Hormuz, where a third of the world’s oil is transported by sea, are at the heart of this tension.
Meanwhile, Omani Foreign Minister Yousef bin Alawi is heading to Iran to discuss developments in the region, his ministry said Monday.
Bin Alawi will travel to the Islamic Republic of Iran on Saturday in the framework of bilateral relations and continuous consultations between the two countries, particularly in regard to recent developments in the region, the ministry tweeted.
Muscat called on Sunday for the release of the tanker, stressing the need to resolve the differences “by diplomatic means”.