UK will not escort every British-flagged ship through Strait of Hormuz

Oil tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz in this Dec. 21, 2018 file photo. — Reuters

LONDON — Britain does not intend to escort every British-flagged merchant vessel through the Strait of Hormuz, a security source said on Thursday, after a Royal Navy warship had to stop three Iranian vessels from blocking the passage of a BP-operated tanker.

The security source said on any given day there were about 15 to 30 large British-flagged ships in the Gulf area, with up to three passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

Exactly a week after Britain seized an Iranian tanker accused of violating sanctions on Syria, London said the British Heritage tanker operated by oil company BP had been approached in the strait, the main outlet for Middle Eastern oil.

With tensions rising in the area, early on Tuesday Britain raised its ship security level to 3, the highest category, for British-flagged ships in Iranian waters.

"Level 3 for shipping would be comparable to 'critical' and that is where there is a much-heightened risk ..," the British source said. "We went to level 3 for Iranian waters at the start of this week.

"We will be resolute in defending UK maritime interests in the Gulf but we have absolutely no interest in escalating the situation with Iran" the source added.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has dismissed as "worthless" the allegation that Iran sought to block the ship. — Reuters