British navy to escort UK-flagged ships in Gulf strait

Britain on Thursday (July 25th) ordered its navy to escort UK-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz after Iranian soldiers seized a tanker in the flashpoint Gulf region.

"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," the defence ministry said in a statement to AFP.

The week-long standoff over the British-flagged Stena Impero and its 23-member crew has inflamed tensions between Iran 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 Thursday it was not willing to send extra military assets to the Gulf, but would share information and co-ordinate its currently deployed assets.

On Wednesday, new US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Britain's plans for a European-led protection force for Gulf shipping lanes is "complementary" to plans by the US to prevent "provocative actions" by Iran.

"I think it's all complementary," Esper told reporters. "There will be clearly co-ordination between us all. CENTCOM will be the co-ordinating authority."

Esper said such an effort would work "whether we do that as one big group, or as subgroups".

The two key things for Washington are to "maintain freedom of navigation" in the Strait of Hormuz and the wider Gulf, and "deterring provocative actions from Iran", the Pentagon chief said.

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