Eight member states back European-led naval mission in Strait of Hormuz

The British flagged oil tanker Stena Impero vessel, sailing from Bandar Abbas, Iran, in route to Dubai after being released by Iranian officials, 27 September 2019. [EPA-EFE/MEHDI DEHDAR]

A European-led maritime surveillance mission in the Strait of Hormuz, a global shipping route impacted by military tensions in the Middle East, has won the political support from eight EU members states, the French foreign ministry announced on Monday (20 January).

The creation of a future European Maritime Surveillance Mission in the Strait of Hormuz (EMASOH) has now gained the “political support” of Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and France, the ministry said in a political declaration.

The Strait of Hormuz is one of the key routes for global oil transit.

The eight countries “welcome all the operational contributions already announced by Denmark, France, Greece and the Netherlands in support of this effort and look forward to new commitments in the coming days,” the statement said.

“In 2019, increasing insecurity and instability, which resulted in numerous maritime and non-maritime incidents, were observed in the Gulf and in the Strait of Hormuz, with consequences of an intensification of regional tensions”, it added.

According to the eight willing countries, this has “undermined the freedom of navigation and the safety of European and foreign ships and crews for months” and “jeopardised trade and energy supply, which is likely to have economic consequences in the whole world”.

The mission’s main goal is supposed to be to prevent further incidents in the region.

With EMASOH, the eight European countries aim to contribute to the protection of oil tankers and cargo ships, but also to a broader de-escalation in the volatile region.

EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell welcomed the initiative of what he called “coalition of the willing” as a “contribution to de-escalation to the region as it is to ensure a safe navigation environment”, which he stressed is different in nature from the previously proposed US initiative.

Last year Washington called for a joint mission to be rolled out but Europeans declined the invitation.

After the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, reinstating sanctions against the country’s nuclear programme and starting a “maximum-pressure campaign” on Iran, Tehran in return threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to international shipping, which could have a marked effect on the global oil market.

In June 2019, when tensions were high between Iran, the US, and Saudi Arabia, a series of incidents with oil tankers in the Middle East has raised the alarm that regional tensions may escalate further.

Two oil tankers were attacked near the Strait of Hormuz while they transited the Gulf of Oman, followed by Iran shooting down an American surveillance drone in the Gulf of Oman.

In this context, and in full respect of international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, EMASOH is meant to provide “in concrete terms increased knowledge and surveillance of the maritime situation, by deploying surveillance means additional shipping in the Gulf and the Arabian Sea”.

The mission’s headquarters is likely to be in the Arab Emirates.

Besides the operational hardware, the mission is also meant to include diplomatic instruments which will focus on de-escalating tensions, for example by means of an inclusive regional dialogue on maritime security.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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