The UK has brought forward deployment plans for the destroyer HMS Duncan and is rushing it to the disputed Gulf region, the Ministry of Defence confirmed Friday.
On arrival, the advanced Type 45 Destroyer will be the second Royal Navy warship in the region amid rising tensions with Iran. HMS Duncan is currently in the Mediterranean and is expected to join the frigate HMS Montrose in the region within days.
The Ministry of Defence would not directly comment on the deployment, but it is understood Duncan was always due to travel to the region to give some relief to HMS Montrose.
However, her deployment has been brought forward as a result of the deepening crisis with Iran. In a statement, the Ministry of Defence said:
As part of our long standing presence in the Gulf, HMS Duncan is deploying to the region to ensure we maintain a continuous maritime security presence while HMS Montrose comes off task for pre-planned maintenance and crew change over.
This will ensure that the UK alongside international partners can continue to support freedom of navigation for vessels transiting through this vital shipping lane.
In addition to HMS Montrose, the UK also has four mine hunters permanently stationed in the region, and a Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship.
The surprise deployment of the destroyer comes just 24-hours after Montrose, a Type 23 frigate, positioned itself between three Iranian Revolutionary Guard gunboats and an oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, forcing the Iranian craft to withdraw.
The Isle of Man-registered British Heritage tanker had been transiting the Persian Gulf and entering the narrow Strait of Hormuz, one of the most strategically important, crowded, and contested waterways on earth when it was ordered into Iranian waters. A Ministry of Defence spokesman said three Iranian vessels had been attempting to intercept the British tanker to make it comply.
The Iranian craft quickly withdrew when confront by the Royal Navy’s robust actions.
The move came as Iran ratcheted up its war of words with Britain. A foreign ministry spokesman in Tehran, Abbas Mousavi, on Friday morning stepped up calls for the Iranian ship currently detained at Gibraltar after being boarded by Royal Marines to be released.
He said: “This is a dangerous game and has consequences … the legal pretexts for the capture are not valid … the release of the tanker is in all countries’ interest.”
And cleric Kazem Sedighi reportedly told worshippers during a Friday prayer sermon in Tehran that the UK would soon be “slapped in the face” for seizing the Iranian supertanker.