Royal Navy Frigate Escorts U.K. Tanker Out Of The Persian Gulf After Iranian Threats
The U.K.-flagged tanker Pacific Voyager appears to have had an escort in the form of the Royal Navy’s Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose, along with an unknown Sandown-class minehunter, as she sailed from the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf of Oman today. This comes less than a week after an Iranian official threatened the seizure of a British ship in retaliation for U.K. officials seizing control of the Iranian supertanker Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar.
Online ship trackers first noticed that Montrose, which is forward-deployed to the region, and the minehunter were shadowing Pacific Voyager on July 9, 2019. The minehunter’s transponder appeared to identify it as HMS Ramsey, but that ship is based in the United Kingdom. There are four other members of the Sandown-class that do operate forward-deployed in the region. Pacific Voyager successfully passed through the Strait of Hormuz without incident later in the day.
“The UK maintains a long-standing maritime presence in the Gulf,” a spokesperson for the U.K. Ministry of Defense told the Daily Star, refusing to confirm or deny that any Royal Navy ships were escorting Pacific Voyager. “We are continuously monitoring the security situation there and are committed to maintaining freedom of navigation in accordance with international law.”
The United Kingdom is a contributor to the U.S. Navy-led Combined Task Force 150, which is based in Bahrain and helps ensure freedom of navigation in waterways throughout the Middle East and guards commercial shipping in the region against terrorist attacks and piracy. The U.K. military has dubbed its maritime contributions in the region as Operation Kipion.
The apparent escort the Pacific Voyager follows a threat from Mohsen Rezaei, who is presently the Secretary of Iran’s powerful Expediency Discernment Council, an advisory body to the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to seize a British ship in response to U.K. authorities boarding and taking control of Iran’s Grace 1 over apparent sanctions violations. That incident occurred on July 4, 2019, and Rezaei, who is also a former commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), made his statement the following day.
The U.S. government has blamed the IRGC for carrying out, or otherwise supporting, attacks on a number of oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in two separate incidents, one in May 2019 and another the following month. The IRGC also claimed responsibility for shooting down a U.S. Navy drone in June 2019, which almost prompted the U.S. military to launch strikes against targets in Iran.
With the situation so tense, Pacific Voyager had already caused a stir after it came to an unexpected stop in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia, raising fears that the IRGC had followed through with Rezaei’s threat. A representative of the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) office subsequently told Reuters that the ship was “safe and well” and that it had paused its voyage simply to ship its estimated time of arrival its next port of call.