Steer clear of Iranian territorial waters. That was the simple message to international shipping companies Saturday as U.S./Iran tensions over the strategic Strait of Hormuz continue to escalate.
A similar warning went out to shippers in May this year ahead of Iran seizing two tankers traveling near the strait, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20 percent of the world’s oil passes.
Already, the Biden White House is exploring plans to put armed sailors alongside U.S. Marines on commercial ships in the strait to deter Iran amid a buildup of troops, ships and aircraft in the region, as Breitbart News reported.
AP reports U.S. Navy Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins, a spokesman for the Mideast-based 5th Fleet, acknowledged the shipping warning had been given, but declined to discuss specifics about it.
A U.S.-backed maritime group called the International Maritime Security Construct “is notifying regional mariners of appropriate precautions to minimize the risk of seizure based on current regional tensions, which we seek to de-escalate,” Hawkins said. “Vessels are being advised to transit as far away from Iranian territorial waters as possible.”
Separately, an E.U.-led maritime organization watching shipping in the strait has “warned of a possibility of an attack on a merchant vessel of unknown flag in the Strait of Hormuz in the next 12 to 72 hours,” said private intelligence firm Ambrey.
“Previously, after a similar warning was issued, a merchant vessel was seized by Iranian authorities under a false pretext,” the firm warned.
The E.U.-led mission, called the European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz, did not respond to a request for comment.
Hours later, the AP report sets out British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which also provides warnings to sailors in the Persian Gulf, issued its own alert.
“UKMTO have been made aware of an increased threat within the vicinity of Strait Of Hormuz,” the warning said. ”All vessels transiting are advised to exercise caution and report suspicious activity to UKMTO.”
About a fifth of the world’s crude oil and oil products passes through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow choke point between Iran and Oman.