Royal Marines are on standby off the coast of Yemen ready to assist in the possible evacuation of British nationals.
A force of around 80 marines was said to be on board a naval support ship, RFA Fort Victoria, close to the strife-torn Arab state.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that there were British military assets in the region but refused to go into detail.
‘As part of routine deployment UK military assets are in the region, although we are not prepared to comment further on their exact operational tasking,’ a spokesman said.
Following the latest upsurge in violence, the Foreign Office has been advising British nationals to leave the country while commercial flights are still available.
Foreign Secretary William Hague warned at the weekend that it was “extremely unlikely” Britain would be able to stage an evacuation operation, telling any remaining UK nationals not to “plan for or expect” any Government assistance.
Nevertheless the presence of the Royal Marines off the Yemeni coast is likely to be seen as evidence of the contingency planning in case events take a significant turn for the worse.
The Fort Victoria is part of the Navy’s Response Force Task Group which has been conducting a series of exercises, mainly in the Mediterranean, over the past weeks.
The helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, which has been used as a launch pad for Apache attack helicopters engaged in operations in Libya, is part of the the same group.
The auxiliary landing vessel RFA Cardigan Bay, based in Portsmouth, was also now heading for Yemen where it will replace another support vessel, RFA Argus, which has been operating in the region.