Royal Navy ships sent to the Gulf to escort ‘UK-flagged commercial vessels’

Britain’s navy will accompany UK-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz to provide protection after the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani by US forces.

Defence minister Ben Wallace said he had ordered the warships HMS Montrose and HMS Defender to prepare to return to escort duties for all ships sailing under a British merchant flag.

“The government will take all necessary steps to protect our ships and citizens at this time,” he said.

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the US was “entitled to defend itself”

Navy escorts were previously used to protect merchant ships in the Gulf after the seizure of the British-owned oil tanker Stena Impero near the Strait by Iranian forces in July 2019.

In the statement, Mr Wallace also said he had spoken to his US counterpart Mark Esper about the attack on Friday and that both urged all parties to “de-escalate” the situation.

He also claimed General Soleimani had been involved in efforts to undermine neighbouring nations in the Middle East and said the US was “entitled to defend itself” against any threats to its citizens.

Mr Wallace said: “Yesterday I spoke to my US counterpart Secretary Esper and we urge all parties to engage to de-escalate the situation. During the last few months US forces in Iraq, who are based in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government, have been repeatedly attacked by Iranian backed militia.

“General Soleimani has been at the heart of the use of proxies to undermine neighbouring sovereign nations and target Iran’s enemies. Under international law the United States is entitled to defend itself against those posing an imminent threat to their citizens.”

HMS Montrose and HMS Defender have been instructed to prepare for a return to escort duties in the strait.