Britain is said to be considering whether to send military drones to the Gulf as tensions with Iran continue to simmer, following its seizure of a British flagged oil tanker in July.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) has a number of Reaper drones based in nearby Kuwait and operating in Iraq and Syria, which could be re-tasked if the government decides the situation in Iran is more pressing.
The drones would help with intelligence operations as British warships continue escorting UK-marked tankers through the strait of Hormuz.
Commodore Dean Bassett, Britain’s senior naval officer in the region, told Sky News: “The direct threat to those British merchant vessels still stands. We’ve seen nothing to suggest that Iran is going to abide by its international obligations.”
“While we call on Iran to abide by its international obligations, the Royal Navy – my sailors, my Marines and the ships under my command – are absolutely ready to protect and defend British merchant vessels in this theatre.”
Iran crisis shows no sign of abating
On Friday, the UK called for broad support to tackle Gulf shipping threats after Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker in the strait in July.
It came after Royal Marines helped detain an Iranian tanker near British overseas territory Gibraltar in July, after Gibraltar’s government said the tanker was taking oil to Syria, which would breach EU sanctions.
The move infuriated Iran, however, and the country accused the UK of piracy, threatening to seize a British tanker in retaliation.
Iran eventually made good on that threat later in July, when it surrounded the Stena Impero with four Iranian vessels and a helicopter.
Almost one-fifth of the world’s oil passes through the Strait of Hormus, which lies off Iran’s south coast.
Any disruption to international shipping in the 120-mile stretch would have economic repercussions around the world, such as a sharp increase in oil prices.