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Security firms pull UK guards from ships travelling to Gulf 

Warship belonging to British Navy, allegedly sent to the Strait of Hormuz is seen passing through the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey on 12 July 2019. [Mehmet Eser/Anadolu Agency]
Warship belonging to British Navy, allegedly sent to the Strait of Hormuz is seen passing through the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey on 12 July 2019. [Mehmet Eser/Anadolu Agency]

Top security firms have removed British guards from ships travelling in the Gulf due to fears that Iran could attempt to capture ships with British nationals on them.

The firms, Maritime Asset Security and Training (MAST) and Ambrey – the largest company in the sector – had replaced the British guards with guards from other countries. The co-founder of UK-based Ambrey, John Thompson, who was also a former elite British soldier, said: “We have instigated a policy of no UK guards in the Gulf,” adding that he is “advising our clients the same.” Ben Stewart at MAST also said: “We’ve been recommending not using UK unarmed guards because of that.”

This new caution over British guards in the Gulf comes in the wake of increased tensions in the region over the past few months, particularly following Iran’s seizure of oil tankers and vessels including the capture of a British tanker in July. The Stena Impero was seized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most prominent shipping lane for oil and fuel.

The vessel and its 23 crew – none of whom were British – are still being held by Iran, with the country having refused to release the ship until an Iranian super-tanker captured by the British Navy last month is released.

READ: US calls on commercial ships ‘not to resist Iran by force’

Patrick Rogers, a security specialist at a global risk consultancy firm called S-RM which advises a number of major shipping companies, said that the decision to remove UK guards was sensible. “If it’s higher risk to have them on board then why would you? … You’re at risk of provoking them.”

The maritime security industry has flourished throughout the past decade, particularly when the threat of piracy off the coast of Somalia and the Red Sea increased sharply, and has been dominated by former members of elite British forces such as the Special Air Service (SAS), Special Boat Service (SBS), Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines.

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