U.S. Launches Maritime Security Initiative for Strait of Hormuz

Gunner’s Mate 1st class Tyson Hinkley stands watch aboard the coastal patrol ship USS Whirlwind while transiting the Strait of Hormuz, May 3, 2019 (USN)

Published Jun 24, 2019 9:03 PM by The Maritime Executive

The United States is launching a new maritime security initiative for the Persian Gulf region to counter the threat of Iranian attacks on shipping, a State Department official told reporters Monday. During previous regional conflicts, the U.S. Navy has periodically provided escorts for merchant shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, but this effort would be multilateral, according to the official. 

The new program, called Sentinel, would be implemented with both material assets and monetary contributions from participating nations. The participants have not yet been named, but the official said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would seek the support of Saudi Arabia on Monday during a visit to Jeddah. 

Sentinel would involve providing onboard security cameras for ships transiting the Strait of Hormuz, in addition to military patrols and escorts, according to the Washington Post. "It's not about shooting at people," the official said. "It's about shooting pictures of Iranians."

The United States alleges that Iran was responsible for two recent attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman, one off Fujairah on May 12 and a second in the Iranian area of responsibility on June 13. The U.S. has provided photographic evidence of Iranian movements after the time of the second attack, but not prior to or during the incident. Iran denies any involvement. 

In an independent, previously-announced move, New Delhi has dispatched two warships to the Persian Gulf to provide security for Indian vessels in the region. In addition, the Indian Navy is providing embarked security teams for Indian tankers with small ship-riding squads consisting of one officer and two enlisted sailors each. The Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) crude tanker Desh Vishal was the first to benefit from an onboard Indian Navy security team during a transit of the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday. 

"Indian-flagged crude and petroleum product tanker owners can either allow naval personnel to board the vessel or they can request the navy to carry out inspection of the ship," an Indian government official told Hindu Business Line. “It is an option for the tanker owners, but we are hoping that they will all agree."

On Monday, in retaliation for the recent Iranian attack on an American drone, U.S. President Donald Trump said that the United States will impose new sanctions on top Iranian leadership, including supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Analysts suggest the measure is largely symbolic, as sweeping U.S. sanctions already affect virtually all international transactions with Iranian financial institutions. 

"Sanctions imposed through the executive order that I’m about to sign will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader’s Office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support. The assets of Ayatollah Khamenei and his office will not be spared from the sanctions," President Trump said. "These measures represent a strong and proportionate response to Iran’s increasingly provocative actions."