Joint European task force will be set up to protect ships from hijack
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced yesterday that the UK will join a European-led marine protection force to guard against Iranian threats in the Gulf, as he described Tehran's hijacking of a UK-flagged tanker an act of "state piracy".
Mr Hunt said he had wanted to "keep diplomacy going", but the seizure last week by Iran of the Stena Impero tanker meant it had to take more robust action.
"If Iran continues on this dangerous path, they must accept the price will be a larger Western military presence in the waters along their coastline," he said.
"Not because we wish to increase tensions but simply because freedom of navigation is a principle which Britain and its allies will always defend."
The UK will now ask all British-flagged ships to give the government notice of intention to pass through the Strait of Hormuz - the world's most important oil chokepoint, Mr Hunt said.
The British government has already dispatched HMS Duncan, a Type-45 destroyer, to take over from HMS Montrose, which is due to arrive in the Gulf next week.
The Prime Minister's office said the high volume of commercial tankers moving through the strait - up to 30 ships covering more than 100 nautical miles - made it impossible to escort vessels individually and it required the help of European partners.
The UK has hesitated over fears joining forces with Washington could be seen by Tehran as provocative and because it wants to avoid being dragged into more confrontation under the US's maximum-pressure approach.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last night told Britain it needed to pull its weight in countering Iranian threats in the Persian Gulf, in the latest sign of strain between the allies over Tehran policy.
Mr Pompeo said that "the responsibility in the first instance falls to the United Kingdom to take care of their ships" when asked about any possible US role in the dispute in the Strait of Hormuz.
The US has pursued a hawkish policy on Iran after pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal; reimposing sanctions while designating the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corp as a terrorist entity.
Last night, Jeremy Hunt said he would not rule out the US navy being part of a multi-national force in the Gulf. (© Daily Telegraph, London)