Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

Gulf shipping told to notify US and UK navies of planned course

Guidance comes as Washington seeks partners in global maritime security force to protect ships against Iran

The oil tanker Stena Important is accompanied by the British Navy frigate HMS Montrose as it passes through the Strait of Hormuz on July 25, 2019. British MOD / EPA
The oil tanker Stena Important is accompanied by the British Navy frigate HMS Montrose as it passes through the Strait of Hormuz on July 25, 2019. British MOD / EPA

The US maritime authorities have told American commercial ships to notify the US and British naval authorities in advance of their planned movements in Gulf waters.

The new guidance was released by the US Maritime administration on Thursday, Reuters reported.

It is in response to increased tension around the Strait of Hormuz after attacks on oil tankers, which the US has blamed on Iran.

Britain announced on Monday it would join the US in a maritime security coalition in the Gulf, weeks after a British-flagged tanker was seized by Iran, and Washington is in talks with more than 60 countries to join same mission.

The US is also warning ships of GPS interference.

A US official at Central Command confirmed to The National that vessels in the area have “reported GPS interference, bridge-to-bridge communications spoofing and other communications jamming with little to no warning”.

“The US remains committed to working with allies and regional partners to safeguard the freedom of navigation,” the official said.

The Iranian Defence Minister, Amir Hatami, on Thursday repeated warnings that US efforts to form a maritime security coalition would be counterproductive.

"The maritime coalition that the US is trying to form will create more instability and insecurity," Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Mr Hatami as saying.

Attacks and harassment of ships near the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a fifth of the world's oil supplies passes, comes amid increasing tension over sanctions imposed by Washington to cut off Tehran's vital oil exports.

Concerns about the situation prompted Britain's P&O Cruises to announce on Thursday that it was cancelling voyages to the Arabian Gulf for the winter season.

“If the rumours of Iran jamming commercial GPS systems around the Strait of Hormuz are accurate, this may be part of a broader trend of use by other countries of cyber and other tech tools to disrupt shipping in recent months," said Andrew Bishop, the head of research at Signum Global Advisors.

Mr Bishop said the trend was a form of “hybrid war”, where non-lethal and non-traditional weapons are used.

“Most observers have considered the concept of hybrid war through the very narrow lens of Russia's 2016 US presidential election disinformation campaign, but hybrid war also means exactly what Iran is being accused of,” he said.

The goal would be “to create an environment of uncertainty for both commercial and geopolitical actors in the region, thereby hurting their interests yet stopping short of doing anything lethal that Tehran could be directly implicated in”, Mr Bishop said.

He said it would also increase the cost for the US, UK and other western countries by forcing them to increase their patrols of the region’s waters.

Mr Bishop said the new guidance to commercial ships was yet another indication that the US “cannot guarantee the security of all ships throughout the region".

"It just doesn’t have the resources and is hence trying to make sure ship masters follow best practices if and when the US military can’t make it to a crisis situation in time," he said.

Mr Bishop said the guidance “puts a heavy emphasis on the fact that commercial ships should not try to forcibly resist the Iranian military or Revolutionary Guard”.

“The last thing Washington wants is to have a firefight on its hands," he said. "That would play directly into Tehran’s narrative."

Updated: August 9, 2019 12:51 AM

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