The UK plans to deploy a European-led naval force to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz after Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker in what London called an act of “state piracy”.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt made the announcement on Monday following an emergency ministerial meeting to respond to Friday’s incident, which saw Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commandos seize the Stena Impero tanker “for failing to respect international maritime rules”.
“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,” Hunt told Parliament.
“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,” he added.
The UK has called on Iran to release the vessel and its 23 crew members immediately, with British Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman describing the seizure – in apparent retaliation for the British capture of an Iranian tanker two weeks earlier in Gibraltar – as illegal.
“We do not seek confrontation with Iran but it is unacceptable and highly escalatory to seize a ship going about legitimate business through internationally recognised shipping lanes,” the spokesman told reporters on Monday.
In response, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran’s actions were not in retaliation for the British capture of the Iranian tanker and he warned the West against “starting a conflict,” saying Tehran was not seeking confrontation.
“Starting a conflict is easy, ending it would be impossible,” Zarif told reporters after meeting his Nicaraguan counterpart on an official visit on Monday.
“It is important for everybody to realize, it is important for Boris Johnson to understand, that Iran does not seek confrontation.”
Johnson is expected to be elected leader of Britain’s governing Conservative Party and the country’s next prime minister on Tuesday.