United Kingdom August 11 2019
Some of the largest maritime security firms have replaced the unarmed British guards on ships traveling in the Persian Gulf with personnel from other countries, fearing that Iran may try to kidnap UK nationals amid heightened tensions in the Middle East and its key oil shipping lanes, the companies tell the Financial Times.
Maritime Asset Security and Training (MAST) and the largest maritime security company, UK-based Ambrey, told the FT that they had started to adopt a policy of no British nationals on board of ships in the Gulf and are advising their clients to do the same.
Several high-profile incidents in recent weeks and months have increased the tension between Iran and the West in the Middle East and in the most important oil shipping corridor in the world, the Strait of Hormuz, which is in close proximity to Iranian coasts.
In one of the latest incidents in the Gulf, Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker in what appears to be a retaliatory move after Gibraltar seized an Iranian oil tanker with the help of the UK Royal Marines at the beginning of July.
A U.S. government official and sources in the shipping industry tell FT that there are concerns within the industry that Iran may target to capture UK citizens aboard ships in the Gulf.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Maritime Administration issued a fresh warning regarding commercial shipping in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, saying that vessels in the area may encounter GPS interference and “spoofed bridge-to-bridge communications from unknown entities falsely claiming to be U.S. or coalition warships.”
The U.S.—whose President Donald Trump said in June that countries that get their crude oil via the shipping routes in the Middle East should protect their own ships along the lanes—is trying to garner a broad international support for escorting oil tankers in the Gulf after the recent incidents. However, so far only the UK has said it would join the U.S. in protecting tankers after the UK-flagged tanker Stena Impero was seized by Iran last month.