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Tanker wars: is shipping safe in the Persian Gulf?

Tanker wars: is shipping safe in the Persian Gulf?

A series of attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf has ratcheted up political tensions between the US and Iran, as well as the cost of ‘war risk premiums’ paid to insurers every time vessels pass through this vital region. Julian Turner finds out more from Jakob Larsen, head of maritime security at shipping NGO BIMCO

On 11 July, almost two months to the day after four oil tankers were damaged by explosions while anchored off Fujairah in the Gulf of Oman, the UK Ministry of Defence claimed that three boats – believed to belong to Iran's Islamic Revolution Guard Corps – violated international law by trying to bring to a halt the tanker British Heritage and as it moved out of the Persian Gulf and into the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran denied any attempted seizure, despite that fact that an Iranian official had the previous week called for a British vessel to be taken in retaliation after Royal Marines helped Gibraltar authorities appropriate a tanker suspected of transporting Iranian crude oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying the UK made the claims "for creating tension" in a region that is already on a knife edge following a period of escalating friction between Tehran and Washington, which began in May 2018 when the US pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal.

A UAE-led report said it was “highly likely” that the four tankers were targeted by limpet mines placed by divers, the same method of attack that may have been used in a separate strike on two vessels in the Gulf of Oman on 13 June.

Since then, a US surveillance drone has been shot down by Iranian forces over the Strait of Hormuz, leading President Trump to greenlight and then call off US air strikes, impose additional sanctions on Iran and attempt to establish a global coalition of US military allies to protect shipping in the area.