US and allies to escort tankers in Gulf amid 'Iran attacks'

US and allies to escort tankers in Gulf amid 'Iran attacks'
The United States is considering providing naval escorts for oil tankers through the Gulf after Iranian military vessels allegedly impeded a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.
3 min read
11 July, 2019
Iranian boats allegedly impeded a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz[AFP/Getty]

The US and its allies are discussing plans to provide naval escorts for oil tankers through the Gulf, a top American general said Thursday after Iranian military vessels menaced a British tanker.

Tensions in the area - through which nearly a third of the world's oil is transported - have spiked in recent weeks, with the US blaming Iran for multiple attacks on tanker ships in the region, and Tehran shooting down an American drone.

General Mark Milley, nominated to become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate hearing that the US has a "crucial role" in enforcing freedom of navigation in the Gulf.

He said the US was attempting to put together a coalition "in terms of providing military escort, naval escort to commercial shipping", he said.

"I think that that will be developing over the next couple weeks."

The UK said earlier on Thursday that armed Iranian boats tried to "impede" a  supertanker in the Gulf before being warned off by a British warship.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards denied involvement but also cautioned both the US and UK that they would "strongly regret" the UK Royal Marines' detention of the Grace 1.

US Coalition

Today's comments by Milley, currently chief of staff of the US army, confirmed less specific remarks by current Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joseph Dunford earlier this week.

Dunford told media that the Pentagon was working to identify possible partners in an effort to protect navigation in the Straits of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandab on either side of the Arabian Peninsula where much of the world's crude oil traffic passes.

"I think probably over the next couple weeks we'll identify which nations have the political will to support that initiative and then we'll work directly with the militaries to identify the specific capabilities that'll support that," Dunford said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last month that he hopes more than 20 countries, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, would work together on building maritime security.

"We'll need you all to participate, your military folks," Pompeo said.

"The president is keen on sharing that the United States doesn't bear the cost of this."

The initiative was triggered last month by Trump administration concerns that Iran was behind recent attacks on commercial ships in the Persian Gulf region.

Four ships, including three oil tankers, were damaged in sabotage attacks off the coast of the UAE in May, while two more tankers, Norwegian and Japanese, came under attack in the Gulf of Oman on 13 June.

The US and Saudi Arabia have blamed Iran, which strongly denies the accusations.

Iran has long threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world's oil passes, if it was unable to export its oil, something US President Donald Trump's administration has sought as a way to pressure Tehran to renegotiate a deal on its nuclear program.