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UK seeks to deploy European-led Naval force in Gulf

LONDON: The UK is planning to deploy a European-led naval force to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz.

The plan comes after Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker which London is terming as “state piracy”.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced the plan 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”.

Hunt told Parliament that 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, he added.

“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 is asking Iran to release the vessel and its 23 crew members immediately. The seizure is seen as apparent retaliation for the British capture of an Iranian tanker two weeks earlier. A spokesperson of UK Prime Minister described the act as illegal.

Hunt said Britain has had constructive discussions with a number of countries in the last 48 hours over the maritime mission.

He also said he would discuss how this would complement US proposals in the area but Britain would not join the American plan as it wanted to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal, aimed at curbing Tehran’s missile programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.

President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the United States out of the landmark multilateral accord signed by his predecessor Barack Obama.

European countries including Britain have been caught in the middle.

“It will not be part of the US maximum pressure policy on Iran because we remain committed to preserving the Iran nuclear agreement,” Hunt said of the planned US maritime mission.

The foreign minister also said a second warship that Britain sent to the region would arrive by July 29.