UK ships on alert after British frigate thwarts Iranian attempt to stop tanker in Gulf

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File photo of the British Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose, which thwarted on Wednesday an attempt by Iranian boats to seize a British tanker in the Arabia Gulf. (Shutterstock photo)
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Updated 12 July 2019

UK ships on alert after British frigate thwarts Iranian attempt to stop tanker in Gulf

  • "We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region,” Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman said
  • British Royal Marines earlier boarded Iranian tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar

TEHRAN/ WASHINGTON: The British government said Thursday three Iranian ships had attempted to “impede the passage” of a British oil tanker in Gulf waters, forcing HMS Montrose — a UK frigate — to intervene.

The incident occurred almost a week after British Royal Marines boarded an Iranian tanker, Grace 1, off Gibraltar and seized it on suspicion that it was breaking sanctions by taking oil to Syria.

US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Wednesday’s incident happened as British Heritage was at the northern entrance of the Strait of Hormuz. 

“The Royal Navy HMS Montrose, which was also there, pointed its guns at the boats and warned them over radio, at which point they dispersed,” one of the officials said.

“It was harassment and an attempt to interfere with the passage,” the other official said.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards denied on Thursday that they had impeded a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, the force’s Sepah news agency said.

“There has been no confrontation in the last 24 hours with any foreign vessels, including British ones,” the Revolutionary Guards said in a statement.

“Now an action that does not need ability but some stupidity has been carried out by them,” Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, a deputy Guards commander, said, according to Tasnim.

 

“The American government ... and also England .... should not have taken action if they had made the smallest calculation,” he said.

“We had rented this ship and we carried the cargo. Their action was very silly and they will certainly regret it. Our reciprocal action will be announced.”

Britain is concerned about action by Iranian vessels to stop a commercial oil tanker, Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman said on Thursday, calling for a de-escalation of tensions.

"We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region," the spokesman told reporters.

"We have a long-standing maritime presence in the Gulf. We are continuously monitoring the security situation there and are committed to maintaining freedom of navigation in accordance with international law."

Britain has recommended all British-flagged ships go to a heightened state of security in the Strait of Hormuz, Sky News reported on Thursday, citing unnamed maritime industry sources.

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A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: "The Department for Transport, as competent authority, regularly provides Security Advice to UK and Red Ensign Group Shipping on how they should operate in areas of high risk."

Threats to international freedom of navigation require an international solution, US Central Command said on Thursday, after three Iranian vessels tried to block a British-flagged tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
"The world economy depends on the free flow of commerce, and it is incumbent on all nations to protect and preserve this lynchpin of global prosperity," Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for US Central Command, said in a statement.

The Kremlin has called for restraint following a brief standoff between British and Iranian naval vessels near the Arabian Gulf.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday that “freedom of navigation should be ensured in the Arabian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz,” which he said was crucial for the global economy. Peskov said Moscow was aware of both Britain’s statement and Iran’s denial that it tried to impede the ship's passage.

Peskov called on “all parties” to show restraint and settle their disputes by negotiations.

Around 20 percent of all oil traded worldwide passes through the Strait of Hormuz.

Opinion

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Meanwhile, French armed forces chief Francois Lecointre said on Thursday that tensions in the Gulf were unlikely to spiral out of control.

“There is a clash of wills underway between the United States and Iran with posturing, reactions, signals and which can from one day to the next get out of control,” Lecointre told CNews television.

“I think it is under control now... I don’t think it can spiral out of control but there can be escalation,” he added.

Earlier on Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Britain would face “consequences” over the seizure of the Iranian tanker.

Tensions between Iran and the US and its allies have risen sharply since Washington stepped up economic sanctions against Iran and moved to bring the country’s oil exports to zero as part of a “maximum pressure” policy to make Iran halt actions that it said undermined regional security.

Iran has responded to the sanctions by starting to breach limits put on its nuclear activities under a 2015 deal with world powers.

Several oil tankers were attacked in waters near Iran’s southern coast in May and June, for which the US blamed Iran. Tehran denied any involvement.

Last month, Iran shot down a US drone near the Strait of Hormuz, prompting President Donald Trump to order retaliatory air strikes, only to call them off.

The US hopes to enlist allies over the next two weeks or so in a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen, Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday. 


Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

Updated 21 November 2019

Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

  • In the Western Sahara, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing
  • "Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” says herder

DAKHLA, Western Sahara: In the Oued Eddahab desert in Western Sahara, Habiboullah Dlimi raises dairy and racing camels just like his ancestors used to — but with a little help from modern technology.
His animals roam free in the desert and are milked as camels always have been, by hand, at dawn and dusk.
When camels “feed on wild plants and walk all day, the milk is much better,” said the 59-year-old herder, rhapsodizing about the benefits of the nutrient-rich drink, known as the “source of life” for nomads.
But Dlimi no longer lives with his flock.
He lives in town with his family. His camels are watched over by hired herders and Dlimi follows GPS coordinates across the desert in a 4X4 vehicle to reach them.
He is reticent when asked about the size of his herd. “That would bring bad luck,” he said.
He prefers to speak of the gentleness and friendliness of the animals he knows like his own children.
“Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” he said.

A camel is silhouetted against the sunset in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


"The desert knows me"
Dlimi comes from a long line of desert dwellers from the Ouled Dlimi tribe.
As tradition dictates, he lists his ancestors going back five generations when introducing himself.
“I know the desert and the desert knows me,” he said.
Like elsewhere, the nomads of Western Sahara are settling, following a shift from rural to urban living.
“Young people prefer to stay in town,” Dlimi said, and herders now mostly come from neighboring Mauritania, whose desert north is traversed by caravans of up to a thousand camels.
Even they “often demand to work in areas covered by (mobile phone) network signal,” he added.
The population of the nearby town of Dakhla has tripled to 100,000 in 20 years, with growth driven by fishing, tourism and greenhouse farming encouraged by Morocco.
In this part of Western Sahara, development projects depend entirely on Rabat.
Morocco has controlled 80 percent of the former Spanish colony since the 1970s and wants to maintain it as an autonomous territory under its sovereignty.
The Polisario Front movement fought a war for independence from 1975 to 1991 and wants a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
The United Nations has been trying to negotiate a political compromise for decades.
Like many in his tribe, Dlimi has family members on the other side of the Western Sahara Wall separating the Moroccan controlled areas from the Polisario controlled areas.
He favors loyalty to Morocco while others back independence, he said.
Tribal affiliation trumps politics, though.
“Tribes are tribes, it’s a social organization,” he said. “There are very strong links between us.”
To “preserve the past for the future,” Dlimi started a cultural association to conserve traditions from a time when there were no borders and “families followed the herds and the clouds.”

A camel herder guides his flock in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


The irony
While Dlimi loves the desert, he does have one complaint: “The camel dairy industry is valued everywhere in the world except here.”
Camel milk is trendy with health-conscious consumers and the lean meat is excellent, Dlimi claims.
Today though, it is small livestock farming that is the main agricultural focus, in response to what non-nomadic Moroccans tend to eat.
The 266,000 square kilometers (106,400 square miles) of Western Sahara under Moroccan control hosts some 6,000 herders, 105,000 camels, and 560,000 sheep and goats, according to figures from Rabat.
In other arid countries, including Saudi Arabia, intensive farming of camels has taken off.
But, while Moroccan authorities have undertaken several studies into developing Western Sahara’s camel industry, these have not so far been acted upon.
Regardless, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing.
“Some say that Saharans are crazy because when they have money they spend it on four feet,” Dlimi jokes.
For him, 20,000 dirhams ($2,000) spent on a camel is a safe investment.
But it is also a consuming passion.
His Facebook page and WhatsApp messages are filled with talk of camel husbandry techniques, research and racing.
Racing “is a pleasure and it pays,” Dlimi said.
Since the United Arab Emirates funded construction of a camel racing track at Tantan, 900 kilometers (560 miles) to the north, racing animals have appreciated in value and can sell for up to 120,000 dirhams, according to Dlimi.
To train his racing camels, Dlimi chases the young animals across the desert in his 4X4.
The technique has made him an eight-time champion in national competitions, he said.
But camels can be stubborn, Dlimi stressed, telling of how he once sold his best champion for a “very good price,” but the animal refused to race once it had changed hands.