Iran crisis: Portsmouth-based warship returns to escort duty in the Gulf after US airstrike kills Iranian general

CREW on a Portsmouth-based warship are set to return to escorting British-flagged ships in the Gulf after a US airstrike killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.

Saturday, 4th January 2020, 9:12 pm
Updated Sunday, 5th January 2020, 3:27 pm

Defence secretary Ben Wallace confirmed Royal Navy ships – Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender and frigate HMS Montrose – will again be used to escort British-flagged vessels through the Strait of Hormuz following the airstrike.

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 summer 2019.

Yesterday The News reported former First Sea Lord Admiral Lord Alan West's concerns British shipping could be targeted in the wake of the killing.

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HMS Defender carrying out her £3.3m drugs bust in the Middle East. Picture: Royal Navy

In a statement, Mr Wallace said: ‘The government will take all necessary steps to protect our ships and citizens at this time.'

Portsmouth-based Defender carried out a drugs bust in the northern Arabian Sea, finding £3.3m worth of crystal meth, it was reported in December.

Mr Wallace 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.'

The Foreign Office has updated its travel advice warning British nationals to avoid all travel to Iraq and all but essential travel to Iran.

It changed current advice over the fear British people could be tried arbitrarily in Iran.

Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said the situation was ‘an incredibly dangerous game of chicken'.