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Friday, July 26, 2019 

The Chamber of Shipping in the UK has sent a message to the new prime minister, Boris Johnson, and his government.

The message asks him to co-ordinate its efforts with the merchant navy on the provision of oversight and support for ships, which will go a long way towards managing the threat posed by Iran, and mitigating the risk to British-flagged vessels in the region

"The red ensign that adorns Britain’s ships evokes peace and prosperity. We must protect that reputation," said Bob Sanguinetti, CEO of UK Chamber of Shipping. "IT IS TO risk a banality to say Boris Johnson has a difficult task ahead of him. Having secured the keys to Number 10 and assembled his Cabinet, he must navigate Britain’s departure from the European Union and unite a Conservative party split by competing opinion over that exit. More pressing, however, is the need to address a growing diplomatic crisis in the Strait of Hormuz."

Recently Iranian ships have twice confronted a British-flagged merchant vessel, in the second case seizing it and bringing it into Iran's territory. The events in the Gulf cannot be divorced from what is generally seen as the more important discussion, over Brexit and the future of the country.

"The maritime sector that I represent is one of the country’s largest — larger even that the aerospace and automotive sectors. It contributes some £37.4bn in GDP and supports 957,300 jobs. About 95% of all British imports and exports, including 25% of the UK’s energy supply, are moved by sea. To put it another way, the fates of the country and its maritime sector are intertwined. The interests of the latter must therefore be protected," Sanguinetti continued. "This requires a muscular defence of the ‘Red Duster’, the ensign that adorns the UK’s merchant and passenger ships. The flag is not an evocation of a lost era of naval greatness (as some may claim), but a symbol of peace and prosperity, recognised and respected around the world.

"But that red ensign must not become a target. The Iranian seizure of the British-flagged Stena Impero last Friday was a striking reminder that for some, the red ensign is merely a flag — one that cannot guarantee the safety of the merchant vessels that fly it."

He pointed out that for a VLCC passing through Hormuz, the cost of seven-day insurance may be as high as $500,000. Sanguinetti believes that there is no comparison to be made here with the seizure of Grace 1, which was done under international law for the breach of EU sanctions; he says Stena Impero was clearly outside Iranian waters and legitimately carrying out its business at the time it was taken.

"This is not a matter of ‘shipping looking after shipping’. Nor is it an overstatement of the problem at hand," concluded Sanguinetti. "As our departure from the EU approaches, it may never have been more important to ensure the safety of British sea trade. Equally it may never have been as important to protect the Red Ensign as a symbol of peace, amity and mutual prosperity."

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