Health and safety

Nautilus calls for increased Naval protection in Middle East

16 July 2019

Maritime union Nautilus International has called for increased Naval protection in the Middle East as political tensions ratchet up amid warnings over the danger of a major confrontation in the region.

The union has lobbied government to commit 'significant naval resources' to the region to protect British ships and British seafarers and to reduce risks in other areas of the world.

Nautilus supports proposals for a new international task force to be formed to reduce the current threat to vessels, as demonstrated in the case of the BP tanker British Heritage, which was harassed by Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels in early July.

'Once again, the principles of freedom of navigation and the safety of civilian seafarers are being jeopardised by global instability and it is vitally important that the situation is not allowed to deteriorate further,' Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson wrote in a letter to Secretary of State for Defence Penny Mourdant.

Mr Dickinson underlined the importance of multinational cooperation in the region, with many Nautilus members working on ships flying non-British flags.

Mr Dickinson recalled the lessons learned from the so-called 'tanker war' of the 1980s, which claimed the lives of more than 400 merchant seafarers in the space of seven years and in which more than 440 merchant vessels were attacked by Iran and Iraq.

'One of the most important lessons from the tanker war was the success of multinational naval cooperation, and a form of convoy system, in reducing the scale of the attacks and providing merchant vessels and their crews with the protection they deserved,' he wrote.

In June two oil tankers, Marshall Islands-flagged Front Altair and Panamanian-flagged Kokuka Courageous, were attacked with Exocet missiles in the Gulf of Oman.

In May four commercial ships were attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. The vessels were anchored at one of the world's largest bunkering hubs near Fujairah. Vessels include Saudi oil tankers Al-Marzoqah and Amjad, the Norwegian tanker Andrea Victory, and a UAE bunkering barge, the A Michel.

'As an island nation, which depends on the sea for more than 90% of its imports and exports, the UK should be at the forefront of efforts to take merchant ships out of the firing line and to reduce the global strategic and economic dangers which arise from attacks on commercial shipping,' Mr Dickinson said.

Britain is expected to deploy a second warship to the Strait of Hormuz in the coming week, according to The Times. HMS Duncan, a Type 45 destroyer, will be dispatched ahead of schedule to the region to help to shadow British merchant vessels.

Nautilus International represents more than 22,000 maritime professionals in the UK, Netherlands and Switzerland.