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Britain on board to join sea protection mission after Hunt calls Iran move ‘piracy’

File photo of Britain Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt
File photo of Britain Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt Reuters
3 min

Britain Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told Parliament on Monday that it is going to form a ‘maritime protection mission’ with European allies in the Strait of Hormuz to protect crew and cargo after Iran seized a UK-flagged oil tanker.

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"Under international law Iran had no right to obstruct the ship's passage - let alone board her. It was therefore an act of state piracy," said Hunt, who did not go into details about the new mission.

Hunt stressed that this is not part of the US “maximum pressure” on Iran, as European nations are still party to the Iran nuclear deal.

He addressed Parliament after Prime Minister Theresa May held an emergency meeting with ministers and security heads on Monday morning on how to deal with Iran Revolutionary Guards seizing of a UK tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

This move by Iran appears to be a tit-for-tat maneuver after UK authorities seized an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar, accusing it of breaking Syria sanctions.

The tanker problem is just one of a chain of issues that have escalated since May, made worse after the US dropped out of Tehran’s nuclear program in 2018 and slapped more sanctions on Iran, in addition to boosting its military presence in the Gulf after what it called a “credible threat” from Iran.

UK, Europe dragged into row

Britain and Europe have been dragged into the row with Iran the European Union has condemned Iran’s seizing of the British-flagged tanker.

British security and high government officials held an emergency meeting over the weekend to discuss next steps in dealing with the ship seizure. Hunt spoke to his French and German counterparts on Sunday, too.

“Safe passage for vessels through the Strait of Hormuz is a top priority for European nations, while avoiding any possible escalation in the region," according to a British statement that cited the EU.

British government officials have told their own flagged ships that they should avoid the Strait of Hormuz, which is the transport waterway for a third of all oil globally.

However, some in parliament have asked why the defence ministry was not more proactive in protecting British ships after the UK seized a tanker in Gibraltar two weeks ago, provoking the ire of Iran.

Britain is currently dealing with a number of domestic issues, as Prime Minister Theresa May is due to resign on Wednesday, and the future prime minister either Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt or frontrunner Boris Johnson set to be named on Tuesday.

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