AFP and Bryony Jewell for MailOnline – Aug 24, 2019
A third British warship is heading to the Gulf to join the mission to protect shipping amid heightened tensions in the region.
Portsmouth-based HMS Defender, a Type 45 destroyer, is being redirected from its mission to the Pacific.
Britain has already sent HMS Kent to cover for frigate HMS Montrose while it undergoes maintenance in nearby Bahrain.
‘Wherever the red ensign flies around the world, the UK stands by to protect freedom of navigation whenever is it tested,’ said Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.
The Government confirmed earlier this month that the Royal Navy has been tasked to accompany British-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz, as part of the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC).
This deployment will ensure that the UK has the flexibility to continually commit a vessel to the international mission, said the Navy in a statement today.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: ‘The men and women of HMS Defender will contribute to the IMSC alongside international partners.’
Britain outraged Iran by seizing one of its tankers – the Grace 1 – on July 4 on suspicion it was carrying oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.
The HMS Montrose then warned off three Iranian gunboats that UK officials said were trying to ‘impede’ the progress of a British supertanker through the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf on July 11.
Iranian Revolutionary Guards stormed and detained the UK-flagged Stena Impero and its 23 crew as they sailed through the Strait of Hormuz on July 20.
The British government subsequently raised the alert level for ships travelling through Iranian waters to three on a three-point scale, indicating a ‘critical’ threat.
Tensions have been escalating in the region, with US President Donald Trump in June calling off at the last minute an air strike on Iran over its downing of a US spy drone.
The HMS Defender sailed from Portsmouth on August 12, alongside HMS Kent, which was also heading to the Gulf to replace the HMS Duncan.
HMS Defender’s commanding officer Richard Hewitt said his boat would ‘play her part alongside other Royal Navy warships in keeping these essential trade routes secure.’