UK takes command of mission protecting Gulf shipping from Iran

The coalition was formed after a series of suspected Iranian mine attacks in the region last summer

In this image from file video provided by UK Ministry of Defence, British navy vessel HMS Montrose escorts another ship during a mission to remove chemical weapons from Syria at sea off coast of Cyprus in February 2014. The British Navy said it intercepted an attempt on Thursday, July 11, 2019, by three Iranian paramilitary vessels to impede the passage of a British commercial vessel just days after Iran’s president warned of repercussions for the seizure of its own supertanker. A U.K. government statement said Iranian vessels only turned away after receiving “verbal warnings” from the HMS Montrose accompanying the commercial ship through the narrow Strait of Hormuz. (UK Ministry of Defence via AP)

Britain has taken over command from the United States of a coalition naval mission to protect ships in the Gulf from the threat of Iranian attack.

British Royal Navy Commodore James Parkin took charge of the seven-member maritime security force from US Rear Admiral Alvin Holsey on Thursday at a ceremony at a US naval base in Bahrain.

The US officer told British broadcaster Sky News that the aims of the task force are “vigilance, surveillance, assurance”.

Dubbed Coalition Task Force Sentinel, the mission is comprised of ships from the UK, US, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Australia and Albania. Command of the naval force will rotate between members every few months.

Handing over command of the task force, Admiral Holsey said: “Working together creates a safer environment for everyone.”

The American officer said the coalition was open to new nations which would make it stronger.

The maritime security mission intends to deter Iran from targeting international shipping in the Gulf.

Coalition frigates and destroyers, accompanied by smaller surveillance craft, escort commercial ships through key choke points in the Arabian Gulf.

Vice Admiral James Malloy, commander of the US Fifth Fleet in the region, told Sky News: “We can and we are deterring illegal and dangerous activities in these critical waters.”

The mission began after a series of suspected mine attacks on oil tankers in the region last summer that the US blamed on Iran.

The British Royal Navy been patrolling the Gulf’s waters for more than a decade but was drawn into closer military co-operation after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker.

The crew of the Stena Impero was held for two months in an apparent tit-for-tat operation after British troops were involved in detaining an Iranian-flagged tanker off Gibraltar in July 2019.

The killing of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani in a US drone strike this month, followed by ballistic missile strikes on US forces in Iraq, briefly increased tensions in the region. Concerns remain over the security of shipping passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

Only 21 miles across at its narrowest point, a third of the world’s liquefied natural gas and around a fifth of the world’s oil production passes through the waterway.

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