The HMS Duncan, a Type 45 air-defence destroyer, has arrived in the Persian Gulf to escort British vessels, a week after Iranian forces seized a UK-flagged oil tanker, the British government said in a statement on Sunday.
Earlier this month, the HMS Duncan was deployed in the Black Sea for Exercise Sea Breeze 2019, involving major naval drills with NATO and partner nations.
“We have relocated from an intense deployment in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, which included support to the French carrier strike group with live operations in Syria,” said Tom Trent, the ship’s commanding officer.
“The Royal Navy continues to deliver consistent, enduring and world-class capability in the region – HMS Duncan is proud to support this vital operation and ready to play her part.”
The announcement comes the same day Iran's President Rouhani described the presence of foreign forces as the main factor fuelling tensions in the Middle East. The destroyer is slated to come off duty in late August, and will be replaced later in the year by the HMS Kent, a Type 23 frigate.
The Royal Navy announced her deployment nearly three weeks ago, after the HMS Montrose – until now the only British warship in the area – was allegedly confronted by Iranian boats.
A week later, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards boarded and seized a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, which links the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, saying that it had violated maritime rules.
The HMS Montrose rushed to protect the ship, but arrived at the scene after it was taken to Iranian waters. The ship is currently docked at a port in southern Iran; the crew is reported to be safe and co-operating with local officials. The UK government has condemned the seizure and directed the Navy to safeguard UK-flagged merchant vessels.
"The Royal Navy has been tasked to accompany British-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz, either individually or in groups, should sufficient notice be given of their passage," a No.10 spokesman said this week, adding that Boris Johnson’s government was focused on securing the release of the tanker and its crew.
Tehran’s move came in an apparent tit-for-tat response to the seizure of Grace 1, a tanker carrying Iranian crude oil, by Royal Marine commandos off the coast of Gibraltar. The vessel is suspected of attempting to smuggle oil to Syria in contravention of international sanctions, which Iran denies.
The then British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the UK would facilitate the release of the Iranian supertanker if Tehran could guarantee it's not Syria-bound. Iran has stressed that it would continue to export oil under any circumstances. The hearing on Grace 1 is scheduled for August 15.