Indian Navy to continue escorting Indian vessels despite Iran-US tensions
19 July 2019
Indian warships escorting merchant vessels in the Persian Gulf will remain deployed for the longer term, even as new flare-up of tensions between Iran and Western powers increased security concerns in the Persian Gulf, reports citing official sources said.
Since June, following attacks on tankers that the United States blamed on Iran and Iran-aligned forces, although Tehran denies its involvement, the Indian naval ships have been escorting Indian-flagged vessels in and out of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
As tensions between Iran and Western powers rise after the shooting down of an Iranian drone by the US forces stationed in the Gulf and the seizure of a western tanker by Iran, the already tense situation in the region has worsened. .
Reports citing official sources said the two Indian Navy ships and the surveillance aircraft deployed there, but will not be part of a military coalition that the United States is assembling to safeguard the waters off Iran near the Straits of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world's oil moves.
"This is not going to stop, the situation being what it is, we will be there for the foreseeable future," the report quoted an official as saying.
Reports also said India’s naval deployment in the Gulf is a sequel to US President Donald Trump's call to major buyers of Middle East oil to protect their own tankers.
The issue figured during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's meeting with Trump on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Japan last month and Modi is reported to have told the US President that Naval ships have already been deployed to protect Indian-flagged vessels.
Trump has been putting pressure on European and Asian allies to shoulder security responsibilities and not depend on the United States alone.
Meanwhile, amidst deepening tensions, Iran said on Thursday it had seized a foreign tanker smuggling fuel in the Gulf, and the US military commander in the region said the United States would work "aggressively" to ensure free passage of vessels.
On Friday, U.S. officials will speak to members of the Washington diplomatic corps about the new initiative to promote freedom of navigation and maritime security around the Strait of Hormuz, the State Department said.
New Delhi will not be formally joining such a force, in large measure because that would pit it directly against Iran, with which it has had historical political and energy ties. It also has never been part of foreign military task forces, preferring to work under the United Nations flag instead, the first official said.
India is the biggest buyer of Iranian oil after China.
"We will be carrying out the force protection measures on our own for Indian-flagged vessels. So far, nearly two dozen ships have been provided security," the official said.
But there is coordination with the US military with which India has a logistics support agreement, the official said.
Indian naval ships operating in the Gulf have been fuelled by the large fleet of U.S. tankers and such assistance will remain because of the indefinite length of operation, the official said.
There have been no incidents so far involving Indian commercial shipping in the vital waterways.