Ensuring the free flow of commercial shipping

France, Germany and six other EU nations have signed up in support of a naval initiative that is aimed at preventing further escalation of tensions in the Strait of Hormuz and ensuring the free flow of commercial shipping through the crucial trading lane.

France’s Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs has released a statement saying eight European Union member states are in support of sending an EU naval force to the Strait of Hormuz.

The governments of France, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal have promised political support for the creation of a “European-led maritime surveillance mission in the Strait of Hormuz”, which they’ve given the acronym EMASOH.

To date, France, Denmark, Greece and the Netherlands have committed resources to the mission the statement said would be aimed at ensuring safe navigation and a lowering of regional tensions. The mission will provide “enhanced maritime situation[al] awareness and surveillance through the deployment of additional maritime surveillance assets in the Gulf and Arabian Sea,” the French ministry statement said.

The stateman said:

EMASOH will constitute a useful instrument in safeguarding the freedom of navigation by ensuring adequate coordination and information sharing mechanisms with all partners operating in the area, including the maritime industry. Moreover, EMASOH aims to foster de-escalation and to complement vital diplomatic efforts aiming at ensuring increased stability and an inclusive regional dialogue in a critical context.

A Dutch frigate is expected to be on patrol in the region by the end of February, according to an AFP report citing an unnamed French army official. France’s defense minister announced in late November 2019 that the UAE would play host to the operational headquarters for the initiative.

The Strait of Hormuz is one of the key routes for global oil transit through which more than a fifth of the world’s oil supply passes, and it has been the focal point of escalating tensions after the US unilaterally pulled out of the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA) nuclear treaty and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Rising tensions and attacks in the region have been “affecting the freedom of navigation and the security of European and non-European vessels and crews in the area for months … [and] jeopardizing trade and energy supplies with potential worldwide economic consequences,” according to the French ministry’s statement.

Tit-for-tat proxy fights involving tanker seizures and diplomatic standoffs between the US, UK, Iran, Russia and other states in mid-2019 have escalated in recent weeks. On 6 January 2020, following a US drone strike that killed Iranian Quds force commander Qasem Soleimani, the UK changed its policy and began accompanying all British-flagged vessels through the Strait of Hormuiz to protect them from potential attacks.

The UK is part of a separate, American-led coalition in the region known as the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC, formerly Operation Sentinel), created to secure oil shipping in Middle East waterways. No other European country has opted to join the IMSC, citing US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal as the primary cause of escalating tensions with Iran.

France’s Ministry said EMASOH would support a de-escalation approach while complimenting existing maritime security initiatives in the region and will work in full accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Riviera Maritime Media