(CNSNews.com) – Following attacks on oil tankers near the Persian Gulf – blamed on Iran – a U.S. proposal to bring together a coalition to patrol the region’s two most important energy chokepoints has won the support of the world’s biggest association of ship owners.
“Anything that can help increase security in the region right now is something we back,” the specialist maritime publication Lloyds List quoted BIMCO maritime security head Jakob Larsen as saying Wednesday.
“On everybody’s mind is the risk of a misunderstanding between different warships in the area,” Larsen said. “We all have to be cautious about a spark that could be ignited and that’s why any military protection or convoy scheme should be coordinated.”
Based in Denmark, BIMCO (formerly the Baltic and International Maritime Council) describes itself as “the world’s largest international shipping association,” representing around 60 percent of the world’s merchant fleet, measured by tonnage.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told reporters in Arlington, Va. that the U.S. military was “engaging now with a number of countries to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom of navigation both in the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el Mandeb.”
“I think probably over the next couple of weeks we’ll identify which nations have the political will to support that initiative and then we’ll work directly with the militaries to identify the specific capabilities that’ll support that,” he said.
Dunford indicated that while the U.S. would coordinate and provide “maritime domain awareness and surveillance” other countries would be expected to patrol and escort ships sailing under their flags.
Some 30 percent of the world’s crude oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway linking the Persian Gulf with the open sea. On Wednesday, U.S. officials said a Royal Navy warship foiled at apparent attempt by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) personnel in fast boats to stop a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.
About 1,300 miles to the south-west, the Bab el-Mandeb connects the Red Sea (and Suez Canal) with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea, and is also an important channel for oil and other goods.
Ships in the narrow waterway, located between Djibouti and Yemen, have become vulnerable to attack by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels fighting in Yemen against a Saudi-led coalition. Last year the Saudis temporarily suspended oil exports through the Bab el-Mandeb, after attacks on tankers blamed on Houthis.
Six tankers have been damaged in sabotage attacks near the Persian Gulf over the past two months. The U.S. and regional allies blame Iran, which denies involvement.
After those incidents, BIMCO called it “unacceptable that the lives of innocent seafarers are put at risk in these unprovoked attacks.”
Dunford said Tuesday he had discussed the sea-patrol proposal earlier in the day with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
During recent travels to the Middle East and Europe, both Pompeo and Esper raised the issue.
In the UAE on June 24, Pompeo told Emirati leaders the U.S. was proposing a plan that would involve the UAE, Saudi Arabia and another 20 countries, adding that “the president is keen on sharing that the United States doesn’t bear the cost of this.”
Esper, at NATO headquarters in Brussels that same week spoke said the U.S. was encouraging NATO allies and regional partners “to help us deter further provocative acts [by Iran] by improving maritime security and demonstrating resolve.”
Esper told reporters he had asked NATO colleagues “to consider joining a group of like-minded countries,” to support freedom of navigation, through maritime and air surveillance – “all the way up to a picket line of ships to help protect the international waterways, and to include maybe even escorts.”
Over the past decade, naval vessels from the U.S., European nations, China, Japan, India and other countries have patrolled waters off the coasts of Somalia and Yemen to protect commercial ships from piracy.
Iran’s Mehr news agency opined that the real U.S. motivation for the proposed patrolling of the region’s waters was to contain rival countries’ access to energy resources.
“Many suspicious incidents and tensions created by Washington and its proxies in Persian Gulf region like attacking oil tankers can be interpreted as the White House’s measures to contain its global economic rivals in order to guarantee the U.S. hegemony and influence for the next decades,” charged the agency, which is owned by an Islamic ideology body established by the regime.