Gulf sentinel mission in Royal Navy hands

THE most important security mission in Middle Eastern waters is in Royal Navy hands until the summer.

Today a team under Commodore James Parkin took charge of the International Maritime Security Construct – a coalition of nations committed to safeguarding merchant shipping from hostile attacks and interference, allowing the safe, free flow of trade.

The Bahrain-based organisation – perhaps better known under its operational name, Sentinel – provides warships to shepherd civilian vessels into and out of the Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz, where four tankers were attacked last summer and the illegal seizure of the British-flagged oiler Stena Impero.

The increased threat prompted a strong response from the Royal Navy – frigate HMS Montrose has been heavily engaged since July in protecting merchant vessels and remains on patrol there today as part of the UK’s forward presence in the region; she’s also been supported by HMS Duncan, Defender and Kent.

On an average day, two British-flagged container ships or tankers are passing through the Strait of Hormuz and each day their journey is delayed costs their owners an estimated £230,000.

The UK is committed to ensuring the safety of shipping in the Gulf region, which contains some of the most important choke points in the world. We recognise the importance of freedom of navigation and will ensure it is upheld.

Commodore Parkin

Beyond that, there are around 2,200 merchant vessels in the region daily, hence an international response to the threat.

Seven nations stepped up to the plate: UK, USA, Australia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia the UAE and Albania – with the IMSC officially beginning operations in early November under US Rear Admiral Alvin Holsey.

He handed over to Commodore Parkin, who is normally based at Stonehouse Barracks in Plymouth where he commands the UK’s Littoral Strike Group – the newly-renamed amphibious forces.

The presence of the Brits and their four-month tenure of the IMSC – commanding an international staff, international warships and international intelligence-gathering air power – was warmly welcomed by Vice Admiral James Malloy, Commander of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet – the senior naval officer in the region.

“Sitting in my office two months back, the First Sea Lord promised he would send the very best, a seasoned, combat experienced officer with significant regional tours under his belt – and he was true to his word,” Vice Admiral Malloy said.

Although the Strait of Hormuz has been the focal point of efforts and global attention over the past six month, Commodore Parkin’s domain also includes two other key ‘choke points’ where shipping has been attacked in the past – the Bab al Mandeb at the foot of the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa, where vessels have been attacked by rebels/pirates – as well as the more open waters of the Gulf of Oman and Gulf.

He is determined to build on the groundwork laid by Admiral Holsey and his staff.

“The UK is committed to ensuring the safety of shipping in the Gulf region, which contains some of the most important choke points in the world,” Commodore Parkin added.

“We recognise the importance of freedom of navigation and will ensure it is upheld.

“While the UK continues to call for de-escalation, the safety and security of our citizens and our interests in the region are of paramount concern to the UK and the Royal Navy.”