Britain to send second warship to Gulf amid rising tension with Iran

Josie Ensor
HMS Montrose will be joined by a second warship - AFP

Britain is sending a second warship to the Gulf amid rising tensions with Iran, as it said it was discussing with the US the possibility of building up its military presence in the area. 

Relations between Tehran and the West have come under increasing strain after UK authorities seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar heading for Syria and a Royal Navy ship was harassed by Revolutionary Guards in the Strait of Hormuz.

The HMS Duncan, a Type 45 Destroyer and one of the most advanced warships in the world, will sail to the Gulf in the coming days to provide support to the HMS Montrose. It is understood it was due to travel to the region, but its deployment was brought forward in light of recent events.

Jeremy Hunt, Foreign Secretary, said that sending HMS Duncan was "about our responsibility to do everything we can to protect British shipping" in comments made after a disclosure by Theresa May's office that Britain was talking to the US about building up its presence in the strategic choke point.

"But this is not an Iran-specific issue," Mr Hunt said. "Notwithstanding the broader tensions in the region - this is about Syria and about a breach of the sanctions against Syria, which of course is a country that Iran is active in."

While not strictly linked, the fate of the impounded Grace 1 vessel has become tied to the future of the nuclear deal.

The Islamic Republic on Friday called on Britain to release its seized oil tanker and warned foreign powers to “leave the region because Iran and other regional countries are capable of securing the regional security”.

Abbas Mousavi, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, told the IRNA news agency: “This is a dangerous game and has consequences ... The legal pretexts for the capture are not valid ... The release of the tanker is in all countries’ interests.”

Sources suggested the move was done on US instruction, however, Gibraltar’s chief minister stated that no other government was involved in the decision to detain the tanker. 

"There has been no political request at any time from any government that Gibraltar should act or not act on one basis or another," Fabian Picardo told parliament, revealing that vessel had been carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil.

British soldiers impound oil supertanker Grace 1, on suspicion it is carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions Credit: UK Ministry of Defence

It came as the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency urged Britain to stick with Europe in trying to save the nuclear deal with Iran, cautioning that Tehran was “very far off” a nuclear weapon.

Mohamed ElBaradei called Tehran’s further enriching of uranium - up to 4.5 per cent from the 3.7 per cap agreed in the 2015 nuclear deal - “child’s play” and said it was a long way from the 90 per cent it would need for a bomb.

“It’s a cry for help,” he told BBC Radio 4. “They are very far away from a nuclear weapon, they are not an imminent threat. 

“It’s a symbolic reaction from a country that can’t even import medicines because of sanctions imposed by the US.”

He described President Donald Trump's decision to back out of the nuclear accord when it was “working” as “lacking rationale, legal basis and any common sense”.

“They are applying a waterboarding method to Iran, drowning Iran and then looking and then asking them: let’s have a dialogue without any preconditions,” Mr ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who served as vice-president of Egypt after stepping down from his role at the IAEA, said.

“No country is going to cooperate under these humiliating conditions,” he added. “If they (the US) want to go to war they are doing a perfect job.”