An image grab taken from a broadcast by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting on July 22 2019 shows Iranian Revolutionary Guards in speedboats patrolling a tanker Stena Impero as it's anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. Picture: HO/IRIB/AFP
An image grab taken from a broadcast by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting on July 22 2019 shows Iranian Revolutionary Guards in speedboats patrolling a tanker Stena Impero as it's anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. Picture: HO/IRIB/AFP

London — The British government ordered the Royal Navy on Thursday to escort UK-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz after Iran seized a tanker in the flashpoint entrance to the Gulf.

“The Royal Navy has been tasked to accompany British-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz, either individually or in groups, should sufficient notice be given of their passage,” said  the defence ministry.

The week-long standoff over the British-flagged Stena Impero and its 23-member crew has stoked tension between the Islamic republic and the UK.

Britain responded on Monday by proposing a European-led mission that could secure the passage of vessels through the world’s busiest oil shipping lane.

But France said on Thursday it was not willing to send extra military assets to the Gulf, but would share information and co-ordinate its deployed assets.

Iran had earlier warned Britain that it intended to retaliate for UK marines’ involvement of the seizure of its own supertanker near Gibraltar on July 4.

Britain has the HMS Montrose warship in the Gulf and a handful of smaller naval vessels.

The Montrose had tried to rush in to rescue Stena Impero, but arrived too late to the scene.

UK ships cautioned 

Britain has already raised its security level in the region to the highest and advised all boats in Iranian waters not to enter the strait.

Its guidance before Thursday was for ships to notify the navy and receive instructions on “the safest way to transit” into the Gulf.

“It is not possible for the Royal Navy to provide escorts for every single ship,” now-former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt told parliament on Monday.

The UK department of transport had earlier advised British-registered ships not to sail through the area.

Hunt told parliament that two to three UK-flagged ships pass through the strait daily.

He said that the Montrose had escorted 30 merchant vessels through the strait in 17 transits by Monday.

The 33km wide passageway provides the eastern entrance and exit point into the Gulf and runs between the United Arab Emirates and Iran.

AFP