LONDON: UK’s foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt told Britain’s parliament on Monday that under international law, Iran had “no right” to board the British tanker Stena Impero last week.
Hunt also said on Monday said Britain wanted to establish a European-led maritime protection force in the Gulf but emphasized that London was not seeking a confrontation with Iran.
“We will now seek to put together a European-led maritime protection mission to support the safe passage of both crew and cargo in this vital region,” Hunt told parliament after Iranian authorities seized a British-flagged tanker in the Gulf on Friday.
“We will seek to establish this mission as quickly as possible,” he said, adding: “It will not be part of the US maximum pressure policy on Iran.
“Under international law Iran had no right to obstruct the ship's passage - let alone board her," Hunt said. He also described Friday’s incident as an act of “state piracy.”
A British warship in the region, HMS Montrose, attempted to warn off Iranian forces and raced to the scene but arrived too late to be able to assist.
Hunt said a second British warship, HMS Duncan, that is being dispatched to the region, would arrive by July 29.
Hunt said all British-flagged ships would be asked to give the British authorities notice when they plan to pass through the Strait of Hormuz, where Friday’s incident happened, “to enable us to offer the best protection we can.”
But he added: “It is, of course, not possible for the Royal Navy to provide escorts for every single ship or indeed eliminate all risks of piracy.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday accused the US National Security Adviser John Bolton of trying to enlist British support for the US campaign against Iran. “Having failed to lure Donald Trump into the War of the Century, he is turning his venom against the UK in hopes of dragging it into a quagmire,” Zarif said.
However, Hunt refuted the claims. “When it comes to freedom of navigation, there can be no compromise,” he said, adding that while the US no longer supports the nuclear deal which Britain still backs, they still co-operated on most issues.
“That is why the solution that we are proposing to the House (of Commons) this afternoon is one that brings in a much broader alliance of countries, including other countries like us that have a different approach to the Iran nuclear deal.”