Amid simmering regional tensions, multi-national warship activity in and around the Strait of Hormuz continues to intensify. Much media reporting has been poorly researched, and confusing, however, so what, exactly, is going on? This article endeavours to give some clarification.
Since July 2019, Washington has been building up a Bahrain-based naval coalition, dubbed the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC). Contributing nations are Albania, Bahrain, Australia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, UK and USA. Washington continues to seek additional members, and says that Kuwait and Qatar will join shortly. There have also been reports that Canada is considering joining.
The prime operational objective of IMSC is to protect, particularly from harassment by Iranian warships, in and around the Strait of Hormuz, the 17,000 oil product tankers which transit the area annually.
The IMSC strategy is to deploy escorts in strategic positions as “sentry ships”, supported from nearby by smaller vessels, positioned to back up the escorts in the event of treats being detected,
The US Navy, which has some 30 ships stationed in the region, undertakes much of the patrolling. Other major warships known to have been involved so far include the British frigates Montrose and Kent, and destroyer Duncan, and the Bahraini frigate Sabha.
France, as ever, is pursuing an independent course, and has established the European-led mission in the Strait of Hormuz (EMASOH), based in Abu Dhabi, and operating in the western part of the Gulf of Oman, and the eastern part of the Persian Gulf.
Contrary to many reports, this is not an EU operation, Brussels having resisted pressure from Paris and London to assume a front line role in the region.
Already in position is the French frigate Courbert. Only one other country has so far agreed to join EMASOH, though, with the Dutch frigate De Ruyter, with embarked HH 90 helicopter, being scheduled to participate from early 2020.
Meanwhile, a South Korean destroyer continues to operate in the region, and Tokyo has just confirmed that it will deploy a Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force destroyer, and an SH-60 helicopter, on independent operations, in January 2020.
Maritime security expert and columnist, Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police, Assistant Secretary for Security in the British Hong Kong Government Security Branch, and Intelligence Analyst in the UK Ministry of Defence. As an independent defence and security analyst he has had some 1,500 articles on maritime security, and geopolitical topics, published in a range of international journals and newspapers. He is an Associate Fellow of the Nautical Institute, and a past Vice-Chairman of the Institute’s Hong Kong branch.