Hunt: Iran cri­sis shows we must boost Navy

For­eign Sec­re­tary says fleet is dan­ger­ously de­pleted as he prom­ises ‘hard power’ as PM

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Gordon Rayner po­lit­i­cal ed­i­tor

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

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