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BIMCO backs coalition plan to protect Gulf shipping

Proposals for a coalition to safeguard shipping in the Strait of Hormuz have been gaining momentum since attacks on May 12 and June 13 against oil tankers in Gulf waters. The US is to provide command and control ships and lead surveillance efforts

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen Joseph Dunford said he wanted to ‘ensure freedom of navigation’ in the region

THE world’s largest shipping organisation has backed US calls for a coalition to patrol and safeguard waters in the Middle East Gulf and Strait of Hormuz.

BIMCO says it is imperative warships used to protect merchant vessels are coordinated to prevent accidentally igniting conflict.

The Denmark-based group said it supported the general concept and looked forward to further details.

This would be the first military support for merchant vessels in the region since naval patrols began escorting ships through Somali pirate-infested waters in 2009.

“Anything that can help increase security in the region right now is something we back,'' said Jakob Larsen, head of maritime security for BIMCO.

“On everybody’s mind is the risk of a misunderstanding between different warships in the area. We all have to be cautious about a spark that could be ignited and that’s why any military protection or convoy scheme should be co-ordinated.”

The US has proposed an international military coalition to ensure freedom of navigation. India has already offered escorts for its flagged ships, while US and UK assets are also in the region.

Marine Gen Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he wanted to “ensure freedom of navigation” in the region, which provides essential trade routes.

Some 16.8m barrels per day of crude oil transits through the Strait of Hormuz, with some 76% destined for Asia, data show.

The 28 European Union member countries are also heavily reliant on the Middle Eastern refineries in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia for middle distillates, including jet fuel and diesel.

“We’re engaging now with a number of countries to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom of navigation both in the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab,” Gen Dunford said.

“And so I think probably over the next couple of weeks we’ll identify which nations have the political will to support that initiative and then we’ll work directly with the militaries to identify the specific capabilities that will support that.”

The UK Ministry of Defence yesterday used a naval warship to escort a laden Isle of Man-flagged very large crude carrier, Pacific Voyager, through the Strait of Hormuz.

The BP-operated vessel is now at anchor off the bunkering hub of Fujairah. It was chartered by SK Corp for a voyage to South Korea, fixture information shows.

An MoD spokesperson declined to explain how the navy was protecting UK shipping interests.

“The UK maintains a long-standing maritime presence in the Gulf,” she said in a statement to Lloyd’s List.

“We are continuously monitoring the security situation there and are committed to maintaining freedom of navigation in accordance with international law.”

The frigate HMS Montrose is providing maritime security in the Middle East Gulf region amid escalating tension between the UK and Iran over the seizure of the tanker Grace 1 in waters off Gibraltar on July 4.

Grace 1 remains detained in Gibraltar, suspected of shipping Iranian crude to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

Iran has threatened to seize a UK ship in retaliation, with owners and operators of UK-flagged ships operating in the region in delicate and sensitive discussions with the government over safeguarding their transit in Middle East Gulf waters.

The US would provide “command and control” ships, leading surveillance efforts, Gen Dunford said, reiterating that the actual patrolling and escorts would be done by other by other countries, who would be expected to provide vessels to patrol waters between these vessels.

Coalition members would also be expected to escort their countries’ commercial vessels transiting the area. India has already unilaterally started escorting India-flagged vessels through the area.

The proposal for a coalition to safeguard shipping in the Strait of Hormuz has been gaining momentum since attacks on May 12 and June 13 against oil tankers in Gulf waters.

Japan said it was “quite concerned’’ about mounting tensions in the Middle East.

“Guaranteeing safe passage in the Strait of Hormuz is vital to our nation’s energy security, as well as to the peace and prosperity of international society,” said Kotaro Nogami, Japan’s deputy chief cabinet secretary.

“Japan will stay in close contact with the United States and other related nations and continue to make efforts for stability and the reduction of tension in the Mideast,” he told a news conference in Tokyo.

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