Hunt: Iran crisis shows we must boost Navy
Foreign Secretary says fleet is dangerously depleted as he promises ‘hard power’ as PM
JEREMY HUNT has said the Royal Navy has been “run down too much” as he cited a skirmish between Britain and Iran in the Persian Gulf as proof that more warships are needed.
The Foreign Secretary said the “deeply troubling” events in the Middle East showed that the Navy must be “expanded to meet the threats we face”.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, the Tory leadership candidate said he would add more warships and carrierbased jets to the fleet if he becomes prime minister because “boosting our hard power is the surest way to keep Britain respected overseas”.
Mr Hunt intervened as oil companies said motorists faced higher petrol prices unless the tensions with Iran were resolved, and the Government raised its hazard warning for British shipping in Iranian waters to “critical”. He said Iran had been guilty of an act of “incredible menace” after the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose had to drive off three Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels which had tried to stop the Ukregistered oil tanker British Heritage in the Strait of Hormuz on Wednesday.
Iran had warned of “reciprocal action” after Royal Marines detained an Iranian super tanker as it passed close to Gibraltar last Thursday, on suspicion of breaching EU oil sanctions on Syria.
With up to three British-flagged ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz each day, and 15 to 30 large British ships in the Gulf region at any one time, the Royal Navy is under pressure to provide more patrol vessels, as HMS Montrose is alone in the area.
The number of vessels the Royal Navy can draw on has more than halved in the past 30 years. It now has 61 active ships and 10 submarines.
Lord West of Spithead, the former First Sea Lord, said yesterday that the Navy needed more frigates because only eight of its 13 frigates were available for operations, which “makes us less secure” and means “wars are more likely”.
Mr Hunt agreed, writing: “When you look at this week’s events it shows that over recent decades, we have run down the Navy too much.”
The Foreign Secretary today says that he will review whether extra Type 31 frigates are needed on top of the commitment to 19 destroyers and frigates, having pledged to increase defence spending by £15 billion if he gets into Downing Street.
Mr Hunt also says he will review how many F-35 Lightning jets will fly from the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth when it is deployed in 2021. Sources said he would like 36 aircraft from the start – twice as many as planned – with a similar number on Queen Elizabeth’s sister ship HMS Prince of Wales when it enters service in 2023.
Iran accused Britain of bowing to US pressure to hinder its attempts to export oil under the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal. President Hassan Rouhani called the seizure last week of the Iranian tanker “mean and wrong” during a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
He warned London: “You are an initiator of insecurity and you will understand its repercussions.”
Boris Johnson said that the UK must remain “very, very tough on Iran”.
THE British Government raised its security warning for shipping in Iranian waters to its highest level as the Royal Navy was forced to fend off the attempted obstruction of a British oil tanker by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
British-flagged ships were notified at the beginning of this week that Iranian waters were considered a level three, or “critical” security environment, The Daily Telegraph understands.
The security alert – which amounts to advice to avoid Iranian waters where possible and would have been accompanied by advice on specific precautions to take – follows Iran’s threat of “reciprocal action” for the recent seizure of an Iranian tanker by the Royal Navy near Gibraltar.
That action appeared to come on Wednesday, when the British Heritage, owned by BP Shipping and registered to the Isle of Man, was approached by three Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps boats as it sailed through the Gulf towards the Strait of Hormuz.
The Iranians ordered the vessel to stop in nearby Iranian territorial waters, according to the Ministry of Defence, but withdrew after HMS Montrose, a Royal Navy frigate which had been escorting the tanker, aimed its guns on the Iranians and warned them to move away.
An MOD spokesman said: “Contrary to international law, three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the Strait of Hormuz. HMS Montrose was forced to position itself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, which then turned away.” The tanker is believed to have been in waters disputed by Iran and the United Arab Emirates when the incident took place. A US aircraft filmed the incident, but the footage had not been released last night.
The incident raises fears that Britain could get dragged into a brewing military confrontation between the US and Iran in the Gulf.
Iran warned that it might seize a British oil tanker after Royal Marines boarded and detained the Grace 1, a supertanker carrying two million tons of Iranian oil, as it passed through Gibraltarian waters last Thursday.
British and Gibraltarian authorities denied the move was targeted at Iran.
Police in Gibraltar said yesterday that they have arrested and interviewed under caution the Grace 1’s captain and chief officer on suspicion of breaching EU sanctions on Syria, in a move likely to further inflame tensions. Neither man has been charged.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard denied attempting to seize the British Heritage, but a senior commander also warned that Britain would “strongly regret” detaining the Grace 1. “If the enemy had made the smallest assess
21m Number of barrels passing through the strait per day in 2018 – amounting to 20pc of global use
ment they wouldn’t have done this act,” said Rear-admiral Ali Fadavi yesterday. “Our reciprocal action will be announced.”
Iran earlier described the seizure of Grace 1 as an act of “piracy” and accused Britain of bowing to US pressure to hinder its attempts to export oil under the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal.
Mohsen Rezaei, a general in the Revolutionary Guard Corps and an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, on Friday warned Iran might go after a British tanker. Hassan Rouhani, the president, warned London: “You are an initiator of insecurity and you will understand its repercussions.”
Oil companies have warned that continued disruption around the Strait of Hormuz, which handles up to a third of the world’s seaborne oil exports, could have a dramatic impact on petrol prices. There are between 15 and 30 British-flagged ships operating in the vicinity of the strait on any given day, more than the Royal Navy can realistically escort.
Besides HMS Montrose, a type 23 frigate, the Royal Navy has four minesweepers and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Cardigan Bay in the region. Britain is also a member of a 33-nation Combined Maritime Force with a mandate to protect shipping in the western Indian Ocean from piracy and terrorism.
The US has said it wants a new international force to guarantee freedom of navigation in the Gulf.
Last month Donald Trump called off military strikes against Iran after it
85 Percentage of exports going to Asian markets such as Japan, India, and China from the Gulf
shot down a US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Tensions in the Gulf have risen dramatically since the president pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 and imposed a series of punishing sanctions on the Islamic Republic, including measures designed to prevent it exporting oil. Britain, France and Germany have defended the deal, including Iran’s right to export oil, but Iran has complained the European powers have done too little to help it continue to trade. A spokesman for BP said: “Our top priority is the safety and security of our crews and vessels. “While we are not commenting on these events, we thank the Royal Navy for their support.”
15-35 Number of British ships in the vicinity of the strait on any given day
HMS Montrose, right, was forced to position itself between the Iranian boats and the British Heritage, left, near the Strait of Hormuz