Britain will send a small number of additional military personnel to Bahrain this week to help boost maritime protection for ships, Sky News has learnt.
The handful of extra forces will be part of the UK Maritime Component Command. The move comes after the arrival of a second major British warship in the Gulf as the crisis over Iran’s seizure of a UK-flagged tanker stretches well into its second week.
The Royal Navy’s HMS Duncan will support the safe passage of British-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz, where the Stena Impero was detained by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard earlier this month.
Iran targeted Britain after Royal Marines helped to seize an Iranian super tanker off the coast of Gibraltar in early July on suspicion it was carrying oil bound for Syria in breach of EU sanctions.
The Ministry of Defence said HMS Duncan would work alongside HMS Montrose to “ensure the continuous availability of ships to accompany merchant vessels”.
Last week the government said the Royal Navy has been tasked to accompany British-flagged ships through the strait to try and provide reassurance to the shipping industry.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “Freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz is vital not just to the UK, but also our international partners and allies.
“Merchant ships must be free to travel lawfully and trade safely, anywhere in the world. I’m pleased that HMS Duncan will continue HMS Montrose’s fine work in helping to secure this essential route.
“While we continue to push for a diplomatic resolution that will make this possible again without military accompaniment, the Royal Navy will continue to provide a safeguard for UK vessels until this is the reality.”
About a fifth of the world’s oil travelled through the strait between Iran and Oman in 2018.
On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani indicated that the Stena Impero could be released if the UK returns Iran’s Grace 1 super tanker.
Stena Bulk, which owns the British-flagged tanker, said embassy officials had met crew members from their respective countries.
In a statement on Saturday the company said: “Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management continue to work closely with the authorities to secure the release of the Stena Impero and its 23 crew members.
“Feedback from the officials is that the crew are in good health and they appreciated the interaction with their government representatives.
“The crew members continue to have limited contact with family members, who we continue to support during this difficult time.”
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Tensions in the region were heightened after Donald Trump withdrew last year from a nuclear agreement made four years ago with six world powers.
The US president re-imposed sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the pact.
Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and reduce the number of its gas centrifuges for 13 years.
But Mr Trump said the deal did not go far enough to curb what he describes as Iran’s malign activities. He wants Tehran to return to the negotiating table to agree a new deal.