Devonport warship sent to Gulf as part of Royal Navy’s show of strength

Western Morning News – January 24, 2012

A Westcountry-based warship was part of an international flotilla of vessels sent through the Middle East’s Strait of Hormuz in a pointed message to the Iranian regime, against a backdrop of escalating tensions.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed yesterday that the Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll was part of the US-led carrier group to pass through the waterway, as tensions continued to escalate over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Last night, Britain, Germany and France joined forces in a call to Iran to abandon “a path that threatens the peace and security of us all”.

A statement in the names of the Prime Minister, chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and French president Nicolas Sarkozy followed an agreement by EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on a ban on Iranian crude oil exports.

The three leaders described the sanctions package – designed to seriously hinder the regime’s economic muscle – as “unprecedented” and said: “Our message is clear: we have no quarrel with the Iranian people, but the Iranian leadership has failed to restore international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme.”

The statement continued: “We will not accept Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran has so far had no regard for its international obligations and is already exporting and threatening violence around its region.”

The longest-serving Type 23 in the Royal Navy, Argyll is one of the most up-to-date and capable frigates in the fleet following an extensive £20 million refit during 2009 to 2010. She is presently involved in a six-month deployment east of Suez where her mission is to operate under Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), a US-led, 25-nation, multinational naval partnership, to bolster maritime security and regional stability across the Middle East.

Roughly one-third of the world’s oil passes through the region, most through the chokepoint of the Strait of Hormuz – which is just 34 miles wide at its narrowest point – along with the Bab-el Mandeb Strait and the Suez Canal.

Yesterday, Iran stepped up threats to close the Strait of Hormuz as the EU agreed on an oil embargo against the country as part of actions over its controversial nuclear programme.

The six-strong flotilla including Argyll, which has a crew of around 185, was led by the USS Abraham Lincoln, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with up to 90 warplanes on board. It also included a French warship and three other US vessels. It reportedly passed through the Strait of Hormuz without incident.

An MoD spokesman said that Britain maintained “a constant presence in the region as part of our enduring contribution to Gulf security”.

Royal Navy warships have been patrolling there continuously since the 1980s.

An MoD spokesman said: “HMS Argyll and a French vessel joined a US carrier group transiting through the Strait of Hormuz, to underline the unwavering international commitment to maintaining rights of passage under international law.”

Earlier this month Defence Secretary Philip Hammond reiterated the Royal Navy’s long-standing commitment to keep the narrows open – and that any attempt by Iran to close them “would be illegal – and would be unsuccessful”.

Mohammad Ismail Kowsari, deputy head of Iran’s influential committee on national security, had said the strait “would definitely be closed if the sale of Iranian oil is violated in any way.”

Another senior politician, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, said Iran has the right to close Hormuz and the action was increasingly likely.

“So far, Iran has not used this privilege,” he added.

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