Concerns over Iran as HMS Westminster leaves for the Gulf

Michael Powell – Portsmouth.co.uk January 23, 2012

THE Royal Navy have sent another warship to the Middle East as fears grow of war with Iran.

HMS Westminster left Portsmouth for a seven-month deployment east of Suez, passing hundreds of relatives who waved off loved ones from the Round Tower.

It came as the European Union formally agreed to an embargo on Iranian oil exports as pressure mounts over the country’s nuclear programme.

Iran hit back with defiance, saying it ‘will definitely’ close the highly sensitive shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz – a move Britain has said it will respond to with military action.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed HMS Argyll was among a six-strong flotilla of British, American and French warships which passed through the strait on Sunday in a strong signal to Iran.

The new £1bn Type 45 destroyer HMS Daring, which left Portsmouth earlier this month, is understood to be steaming towards the region as tensions continue to rise.

As Westminster left Portsmouth, family members spoke of their concerns about Iran.

Ex-navy sailor Philip Whiteley, 48, who was waving goodbye to his seaman specialist son Kristopher, 23, said: ‘It is fairly worrying if Iran kicks off.

‘There are other ships in the Gulf so hopefully Westminster won’t have to go there.’

Westminster, a 20-year-old Type 23 frigate, has a crew of 190. Her numbers have been boosted by a team of Royal Marines who have recently joined the ship.

Tony Ormonde-Dobbin, 76, who is an ex-Royal Marine, waved off his grandson Callum Smith, 21, who is a Royal Marine sniper.

He said: ‘I’m very proud to see him going off. This is his first time away with a ship and he’s really excited about going away. I hope he’ll be okay.’

Foreign secretary William Hague called the Iranian oil embargo ‘an unprecedented set of sanctions’ and said it was designed to persuade the Iranian government to launch ‘meaningful’ talks with the international community on its nuclear intentions.

He added: ‘These sanctions are peaceful and legitimate measures. They are not about conflict.

‘I hope Iran will come to its senses on this issue and agree to negotiate.’

But Iranian officials reacted with anger and repeated the threat to close the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran’s national security advisor Mohammad Ismail Kowsari told the semi-official Fars news agency: ‘If any disruption happens regarding the sale of Iranian oil, the Strait of Hormuz will definitely be closed.

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