Iran crisis: British guards pulled from ships in Gulf over fears of Tehran KIDNAP



09.08.2019 07:00

Leading firms Ambrey and Maritime Asset Security and Training (MAST) have swapped UK citizens on ships with guards from other countries. This is in continued response to Iran’s seizure of the British-flagged Stena Impero oil tanker on July 19 in the Strait of Hormuz - widely regarded as the world’s most important shipping lane for fuels. The tanker and all 23 crew members - none of whom are British - continue to be held by Iran three weeks on.

Iran said the vessel was seized in retaliation for the UK seizing the Grace 1 supertanker off Gibraltar last month, which Britain alleged was trying to breach EU sanctions against Syria.In a further escalation of tensions, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Tehran would launch legal action over the vessel’s alleged breaches of maritime law.John Thompson, a former elite UK soldier who co-founded UK-based Ambrey, told the Financial Times: “We have instigated a policy of no UK guards in the Gulf. We are advising our clients the same.”Ben Stewart at MAST said: “We’ve been recommending not using UK unarmed guards because of that risk.”

The maritime security industry, which came to particular prominence a decade ago when piracy off the coast of Somalia escalated, has traditionally been made up of former members of elite British forces, such as the Royal Marines, Parachute Regiment, SAS and SBS.But as the sector became more competitive over recent years, the industry has employed cheaper guards from eastern Europe and Asia, although British security are still often used as senior members of teams.Shipping industry experts fear Iran could be looking to target UK nationals.One person, who asked not to be named given the rising tensions surrounding the shipping area, told the Financial Times: “Everyone in the UK shipping industry seems to believe the Iranians want British crew.READ MORE: Putin 'misleading Tehran over Israel' in bid to be Middle East leader

“That’s the impression we have, given the events that have happened and the feedback from people on board.”Patrick Rogers at S-RM, a global risk consultancy that advises a number of major shipping companies, said: “If it’s higher risk to have them (UK guards) on board then why would you? You’re at risk of provoking them.”The US maritime agency has warned ships flying its flag should inform US and British naval authorities if they were going to travel into the Gulf.Britain has also got closer to the US by joining the American-led task force for escorting ships through the Gulf and nearby waters.READ MORE: Iran news: How USA is tracking China’s tanker movements [ANALYSIS]Iran 'plotting to end tanker crisis by planning Saudi Arabia downfall [COMMENT]Iran threatens to launch legal action over seized UK tanker [LATEST]

But other European countries, most notably Germany, have been reluctant to join a US -led mission because they fear it will appear they are supporting Washington’s long-running hard line approach against Iran.Tensions hit new heights in May when four vessels, including two tankers from Saudi Arabia, were attacked in the Gulf of Oman.The US blamed Iran, but Tehran has continued to deny any involvement.This has seen a rush to put more guards in ships as security has become more of a concern but unlike zones of Somali piracy, guards are unarmed because of the rising risk of clashing with Iranian military forces.DON'T MISS

Global tensions have been rocketing since last year when Donald Trump withdrew the US from the landmark nuclear deal singed in 2015.This has left the European Union, China, France, Russia, UK and Germany as the remaining signatories.The US President was furious because he wanted a wider accord that would limit both Iran’s nuclear activity and also curb its ballistic missile programme, reining in its support for proxies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.The threat of an all-out war has continued to increase as Mr Trump has imposed several tough sanctions on Iran - particularly against its lucrative oil sector - blowing a huge hole in the country’s economy.

But Tehran has been retaliating with force, and last week warned it will be reducing its compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal in various stages.Iran has warned it could even withdraw from the pact altogether unless the remaining signatories find a way of protecting its economy from tough sanctions being imposed by Donald Trump’s administration.Last month, in a further move away from the nuclear deal, Iran threatened to restart deactivated centrifuges and ramp up enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity.


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