British warship was an hour from tanker seized by Iran in 'hostile act'

Josie Ensor
British soldiers are seen during an operation involving the oil supertanker Grace 1 - UK Ministry of Defence

Britain has admitted its nearest warship was one hour away from the merchant vessel seized by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday and could do nothing to help.

Penny Mordaunt, the defence secretary, said the incident happened in Omani waters and was a "hostile act".

But she said the British Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose was 60 minutes away from being able to help the Stena Impero when it was boarded by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

The Foreign Office summoned Iran's charge d'affaires, Mohsen Omidzamani, following the seizure of the British-flagged oil tanker.

It came as Jeremy Hunt spoke to his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif  to express Britain's concern over the latest hike in tensions in the region.

Mr Hunt wrote on Twitter: "Just spoke to Iranian FM Zarif  and expressed extreme disappointment that having assured me last Saturday Iran wanted to de-escalate situation they have behaved in the opposite way.

"This has to be about actions not words if we are to find a way through. British shipping must and will be protected."

Mr Zarif hit back with his own tween, stating: "Unlike the piracy in the Strait of Gibraltar, our action in the Persian Gulf is to uphold int'l maritime rules. As I said in NY, it is IRAN that guarantees the security of the Persian Gulf & the Strait of Hormuz. UK must cease being an accessory to #EconomicTerrorism of the US."

Following a meeting of the Government's emergency committee Cobra, a spokesman said the seizure was "a clear challenge to international freedom of navigation", adding: "As the Foreign Secretary has said, our response will be considered and robust and there will be serious consequences if the situation is not resolved."

Iran has directly linked the seizure of the tanker with Britain's role in detaining a tanker carrying Iranian oil earlier this month.

A spokesman for Iran's Guardian Council was quoted as saying "the rule of reciprocal action is well-known in international law" and that Tehran made the right decision in the face of an "illegitimate economic war and seizure of oil tankers".

The explanation, contrasts with Iran's earlier claims that the Stena Impero collided with a fishing vessel in the Persian Gulf, as tensions mount in the strategic waterway, a chokepoint for around a third of the world's sea-borne oil.

Allahmorad Afifipour, the head of Ports and Maritime Organisation in southern Hormozgan province claimed the Swedish-owned Stena Impero was in an accident with an Iranian fishing boat whose distress call it ignored.

The 30,000-tonne ship had been en route to Saudi Arabia, but abruptly changed course and began sailing towards the Iranian island of Qeshm, data relayed by maritime tracking services showed. It then “went dark”, meaning its transponder was turned off, at 4.29pm UK time and nothing has been heard from her or her 23 crew since.

The tanker's operator, Stena Bulk, said on Friday the ship had been "in full compliance with all navigation and international regulations", but was no longer under the crew's control and could not be contacted.

Guards say it was taken to Bander Abbas port, where its Russian, Ukrainian, Indian, Latvian and Filipino crew are being questioned.

Mr Hunt said this morning that he was worried that Iran had taken a "dangerous path".

"Yesterday's action in Gulf shows worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour after Gibraltar’s LEGAL detention of oil bound for Syria," Mr Hunt said on Twitter.

"Our reaction will be considered but robust. We have been trying to find a way to resolve Grace1 issue but WILL ensure the safety of our shipping."

A Whitehall source told the Telegraph: “It looks as though the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have boarded and taken a UK-flagged ship. It appears to be linked to events around the Grace 1 tanker.”

British authorities seized the Iranian Grace 1 supertanker off the coast of Gibraltar on July 4, on suspicion it was carrying crude to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.

The fate of the tanker has been at the centre of escalating tensions between the UK and Iran and was seen as a pawn in the standoff between the Islamic Republic and the West.

Why was the ship not protected in face of Iran threat?

The former head of the Royal Navy on Saturday questioned why British shipping has been allowed to go through the Straits of Hormuz without military protection.

Lord West, the former 1st Sea Lord, said it was “foolhardy” and “unacceptable”, for UK shipping to transit the area without a Royal Navy escort in the face of threats by the Iranians to seize ships.

However, he also acknowledged that any ban on British shipping travelling through the Straits of Hormuz without an escort would be difficult to enforce, because the Navy would have “too few” ships to escort them all.

An escort-only policy would effectively mean fewer British merchant vessels sailing through the Straits, with a knock-on effect on trade in an area through which a third of the world's sea-borne oil is transported.

Reacting to the seizure of the British-flagged vessel the Stena Impero by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Friday, Lord West said: “What I find extraordinary is that we knew that the Iranians would try something like this a few days ago. This is hardly a surprise. The Iranians said very clearly they intended to do this and they have done it.”

He told Sky News: “I’m absolutely amazed that we haven’t implemented some sort of control of red ensign shipping within the region whereby no tanker would go in to what is clearly a dangerous zone without an escort, and I find it bizarre that we seem to have ships doing exactly that.”

But Lord West admitted the British navy had “too few ships” and would find it “extremely difficult” to provide such escorts to merchant vessels.

Between 15 and 30 British-flagged tankers pass through the strait every day, with only seven Royal Navy vessels, accompanied by Royal Marines, for force protection in the Gulf. 

The UK had sent an extra navy ship to protect British-flagged oil tankers travelling through the Gulf last weekend after “specific” threats from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. 

HMS Montrose, a Type 23 frigate, was already in the area. HMS Duncan - Britain’s most advanced warship - was also sent. 

HMS Montrose was dispatched on Friday to go help the Stena, but arrived minutes too late when it was already in Iranian waters.

British ministers are now expected to face difficult questions about the decision to seize the Iranian Grace 1 supertanker off Gibraltar on July 4, without ensuring that it could protect British-owned shipping in the Straits of Hormuz.

British soldiers are seen during an operation involving the oil supertanker Grace 1 Credit: UK Ministry of Defence

Critics have already questioned whether the UK confronted Iran knowing that the Gulf waterways were not adequately policed.

Chris Parry, a former Royal Navy warfare officer and aviator, who now runs a strategic forecasting company, said: “Why are ship owners dumb enough to sail their ships independently through a threat area?  Convoys are needed as in the 1980s to counter a weak Iranian regime that has lost control of the organised crime bosses of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

“UK government should declare an exclusion zone around all British flagged ships.  If you are gangsters from Iranian Revolutionary Guard, enter at your peril.”

Shortly before the Stena Impero was seized the MoD had released a statement the state of the Royal Navy presence in the area.

It stated last Tuesday: “Since 1980, units of both the Royal Navy (RN) and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) have maintained a presence in the Gulf 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

“We have approximately 1,200 UK personnel deployed and are committed to de-escalation in the Gulf and maintaining free navigation through the region.”

It added: “The UK regularly reviews the number of RN and RFA vessels in the region.”

  • 'Gaetz-crasher': Here's why a Republican lawmaker was barred from closed-door testimony
    Yahoo News

    'Gaetz-crasher': Here's why a Republican lawmaker was barred from closed-door testimony

    When Republican congressman Matt Gaetz tried to attend an impeachment inquiry deposition Monday morning at the U.S. Capitol, he ran smack into the often arcane and confusing rules of Congress. Gaetz, a rabble-rouser from Florida who accused Democrats of dirty tricks last fall, claimed that as a member of the House Judiciary Committee he should be allowed to attend the deposition of Fiona Hill, President Trump's former top Russia and Europe adviser. The impeachment inquiry depositions are being held behind closed doors inside the Capitol.

  • What's causing record rates of STDs?
    Yahoo News 360

    What's causing record rates of STDs?

    The combined number of cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 2.4 million cases of the three sexually transmitted diseases were reported last year, an increase of more than 100,000 from the previous year. Congenital syphilis led to 94 newborn deaths in 2018, the CDC said.

  • Booze run from behind bars: Inmates escape from Texas federal prison, return with whiskey
    USA TODAY

    Booze run from behind bars: Inmates escape from Texas federal prison, return with whiskey

    Four inmates from a Texas federal prison were caught after they escaped and returned with whiskey and cellphones, officials said. The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office said investigators began conducting surveillance behind the Federal Prison Complex in Beaumont, Texas, about 90 miles east of Houston, after receiving reports that inmates were leaving to bring back contraband. The men, identified as Julian Lemus, 34, Robert Young, 45, Leo Martinez, 25, and Silvestre Rico, 35, were booked into the LaSalle Correctional Facility on charges of escape.

  • China inflation surges as pork prices soar
    AFP

    China inflation surges as pork prices soar

    China's consumer inflation accelerated at its fastest pace in almost six years in September as African swine fever sent pork prices soaring nearly 70 percent, official data showed Tuesday. Authorities have gone as far as tapping the nation's pork reserve to control prices of the staple meat, as the swine fever crisis could become a political and economic liability for the state. The consumer price index (CPI) -- a key gauge of retail inflation -- hit 3.0 percent last month, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said, up from 2.8 percent in August and the highest since since November 2013.

  • Pope's bodyguard resigns over new financial leaks scandal
    Associated Press

    Pope's bodyguard resigns over new financial leaks scandal

    The Vatican's latest scandal claimed its first victim Monday as Pope Francis' chief bodyguard resigned over the leak of a Vatican police flyer identifying five employees who were suspended as part of a financial investigation. The Vatican said its police chief, Domenico Giani, bore no responsibility for the leaked flyer but resigned to avoid disrupting the investigation and "out of love for the church and faithfulness" to the pope. Giani, a 20-year veteran of the Vatican's security services, has stood by Francis' side and jogged alongside his popemobile during hundreds of public appearances and foreign trips.

  • Saudi Arabia: We are undergoing an unprecedented transformation
    USA TODAY Opinion

    Saudi Arabia: We are undergoing an unprecedented transformation

    In response, the kingdom's leadership has publicly taken responsibility for what occurred because it happened under its watch and has implemented concrete measures to ensure that nothing like this happens again. Since then, several senior officials have been dismissed from their positions, and 20 people have been investigated. The Saudi public prosecutor has indicted 11 people, all of whom are on trial.

  • Soldier wounded during search for Bowe Bergdahl dies of his injuries
    The Telegraph

    Soldier wounded during search for Bowe Bergdahl dies of his injuries

    A US soldier shot in the head during the 2009 search for army deserter Bowe Bergdahl has died from his injuries. Army Master Sgt. Mark Allen died on Saturday at the age of 46, 10 years after being injured in the hunt for his missing comrade. He spent 21 years in the army and national guard, and retired in 2013 on receiving the Purple Heart.

  • Dutch police discover family locked away for years in isolated farmhouse
    Yahoo News Video

    Dutch police discover family locked away for years in isolated farmhouse

    Dutch police acting on a tip-off discovered six young adult siblings who had apparently spent years locked away in a secret room in an isolated farmhouse "waiting for the end of time," local broadcasters reported on Tuesday.

  • View Photos of Our Sports Sedan Battle Between the Dodge Charger and Kia Stinger GT
    Car and Driver

    View Photos of Our Sports Sedan Battle Between the Dodge Charger and Kia Stinger GT

    America's leading (and only) V-8 muscle sedan takes on Korea's upstart rear-drive hatchback in a battle of power versus poise. From Car and Driver

  • Trump's latest conspiracy theory is that the Kurds released ISIS prisoners to pull the US back into Syria
    Business Insider

    Trump's latest conspiracy theory is that the Kurds released ISIS prisoners to pull the US back into Syria

    President Donald Trump suggested Kurdish forces intentionally released ISIS prisoners to pull the US back into northeast Syria. Trump provided no evidence to support this assertion and no US officials have gone on record to confirm this. The Kurds bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against ISIS, and are now facing a Turkish military invasion in Syria.

  • Anthony Scaramucci is desperately trying to recruit Mitt Romney for a 2020 run
    The Week

    Anthony Scaramucci is desperately trying to recruit Mitt Romney for a 2020 run

    Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is running for president again — at least in Anthony Scaramucci's dreams. The famously short-lived White House communications director has since turned on the president who appointed him, and has publicly said he's trying to knock President Trump off the 2020 ticket. Now, it seems Scaramucci has decided on his dream candidate, and has launched a website and line of T-shirts to persuade him to run.

  • Nigerian police rescue 67 from 'inhuman' conditions at Islamic 'school'
    Reuters

    Nigerian police rescue 67 from 'inhuman' conditions at Islamic 'school'

    Police in northern Nigeria rescued nearly 70 men and boys from a second purported Islamic school where they were shackled and subjected to "inhuman and degrading treatments." The raid in Katsina, the northwestern home state of President Muhammadu Buhari, came less than a month after about 300 men and boys were freed from another supposed Islamic school in neighboring Kaduna state where they were allegedly tortured and sexually abused. "In the course of investigation, sixty-seven persons from the ages of 7 to 40 years were found shackled with chains," Katsina police spokesman Sanusi Buba said in a statement.

  • When police misconduct occurs, records often stay secret. One mom's fight to change that.
    USA TODAY

    When police misconduct occurs, records often stay secret. One mom's fight to change that.

    Furious about the way she was treated, she worked with other families whose relatives were killed by police to help push for the recent passage of California's new Senate Bill 1421, which as of January 1 overrides decades of precedent and requires police departments to open internal investigation records related to deadly force and police wrongdoing. The law could inspire reform at police departments across the nation at a time when the relationship between police and the public is fraught with tension following numerous fatal shootings, particularly involving victims of color.

  • Flooded bullet trains show Japan's risks from disasters
    Associated Press

    Flooded bullet trains show Japan's risks from disasters

    TOKYO (AP) — The typhoon that ravaged Japan last week hit with unusual speed and ferocity, leaving homes buried in mud and people stranded on rooftops. Japan's technological prowess and meticulous attention to detail are sometimes no match for rising risks in a precarious era of climate change. "Weather conditions in Japan up to now have been relatively moderate," said Toshitaka Katada, a disaster expert and professor at the University of Tokyo.

  • In Jamal Khashoggi's death, Saudi money is talking louder than murder
    USA TODAY Opinion

    In Jamal Khashoggi's death, Saudi money is talking louder than murder

    Anyone interested in what it looks like to get away with murder should peruse the attendee list for Saudi Arabia's flashy "Davos in the Desert" this month. Vaporizing into the desert heat is all the righteous alarm that compelled leading financial firms to boycott the event last year out of concern that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, weeks before, had ordered the grisly killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Attending this year's extravaganza are executives of JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, all of them institutions selected to underwrite the kingdom's highly anticipated, partial public offering of its oil company, Aramco, valued $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion.

  • India blocks SMS services in Kashmir after trucker killed
    AFP

    India blocks SMS services in Kashmir after trucker killed

    Text messaging services were blocked in Indian Kashmir just hours after being restored when a truck driver was killed by suspected militants and his vehicle set ablaze, authorities said Tuesday. Separately, Indian officials said a 24-year-old woman died in the latest exchange of artillery fire with Pakistan over their de-facto border dividing the blood-soaked Himalayan region. Three people -- a father and his two children aged 10 and 11 -- were killed in a Pakistani district next to the Line of Control after mortar shells hit their homes, officials said on Tuesday.

  • Spain Minister Attacks ‘Totalitarianism’ of Catalan Separatists
    Bloomberg

    Spain Minister Attacks ‘Totalitarianism’ of Catalan Separatists

    When Catalonia's secessionist president, Joaquim Torra, claims to be speaking for all Catalans, that comes close to a totalitarian attitude, Borrell, who was born in the region, told reporters Tuesday. “The root of the problem is that the independence movement ignores the 'Catalanness' of those people who aren't in favor of independence,” he said. Borrell, who himself is Catalan, spoke as protests continued against Supreme Court verdicts on Monday that sentenced nine separatist leaders to a combined 100 years in jail, including a 13-year term for Oriol Junqueras, the region's former vice president.

  • Jeep Gladiator Gets Even More Rugged as a Military-Spec Vehicle
    Car and Driver

    Jeep Gladiator Gets Even More Rugged as a Military-Spec Vehicle

    AM General is known for turning the Humvee into the civilian Hummer, but now the company is teaming with Jeep to build a military-grade Jeep Gladiator. The Gladiator XMT (Extreme Military-Grade Truck) features massive off-road tires, two 4x4 systems, skid plates and tow hooks, and the doors and roof are removed. The XMT could go into production as soon as late 2020, but only if the U.S. Army places the order.

  • Russia Begins Patrolling Area Dividing Syrian and Turkish Forces
    National Review

    Russia Begins Patrolling Area Dividing Syrian and Turkish Forces

    Russia announced on Tuesday that its forces have begun patrolling the area between Syrian and Turkish troops and allied militias positioned near the Turkey-Syria border. The Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying its forces had established a presence in “the northwestern borders of Manbij district along the line of contact of the Syrian Arab Republic military and the Turkish military. Meanwhile, Russian military personnel appeared to take over an abandoned U.S. military base in Manbij in a video obtained by the Wall Street Journal.

  • Hiker Digs Up 1,000-Year-Old Iron Weapon
    Popular Mechanics

    Hiker Digs Up 1,000-Year-Old Iron Weapon

    Hordaland County, home of the Store Ishaug mountain where the blade was uncovered, announced the discovery. "In the nice weather in mid-September I went for a walk and discovered with one arrow point just beside a snowflake," he said on the county's website. Store Ishaug, which has an elevation of 4,869 feet, isn't a typical hot spot for ancient artifacts.

  • Polls show a 17-point swing toward impeaching Trump
    Yahoo News Video

    Polls show a 17-point swing toward impeaching Trump

    As of three weeks ago, a majority of Americans, 51.1 percent, on average, opposed impeaching President Trump, with only 40 percent supporting it. But the results came before the Ukraine scandal snowballed. As of today, opposition to impeachment has plummeted 7 percentage points (to 44 percent) and support has climbed nearly 10 points (to 49.8 percent), according to FiveThirtyEight's preliminary polling tracker.

  • The Independent

    Son of sheriff who called immigrants ‘drunks’ at White House event arrested for public intoxication

    The son of a Texas sheriff who used a White House press conference to describe immigrant offenders as “drunks” likely to repeatedly break the law has been arrested for public intoxication. Sergei Waybourn, 24, faces a count of indecent exposure as well as public drunkenness just days after his father, Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn, was criticised for the comments. Responding to a California court ruling that banned immigration officers from arresting people on the basis of records that have been proven unreliable, Sheriff Waybourn said 7% of his 4,200 inmates were “illegal aliens”.

  • We found 85,000 cops who’ve been investigated for misconduct. Now you can read their records.
    USA TODAY

    We found 85,000 cops who’ve been investigated for misconduct. Now you can read their records.

    At least 85,000 law enforcement officers across the USA have been investigated or disciplined for misconduct over the past decade, an investigation by USA TODAY Network found. Despite their role as public servants, the men and women who swear an oath to keep communities safe can generally avoid public scrutiny for their misdeeds. The records of their misconduct are filed away, rarely seen by anyone outside their departments.

  • South Korean pop star Sulli found dead at her home
    Associated Press

    South Korean pop star Sulli found dead at her home

    South Korean pop star and actress Sulli was found dead at her home south of Seoul on Monday, police said. The 25-year-old was found after her manager went to her home in Seongnam because she didn't answer phone calls for hours, said Kim Seong-tae, an official from the Seongnam Sujeong Police Department. "The investigation is ongoing and we won't make presumptions about the cause of death," said Kim, adding that security camera footage at Sulli's home showed no signs of an intrusion.

  • All of the Google Pixel and Home Products on Sale Now
    Popular Mechanics

    All of the Google Pixel and Home Products on Sale Now

    Googles new product announcements means last-generation tech is now cheaper. From Popular Mechanics