(Persia Digest) -
The UK is considering sending drones to the [Persian] Gulf as the crisis with Iran continues.
Alistair Bunkall writes in Sky News that the unmanned aircraft would help with overhead surveillance as British warships continue to escort UK-flagged tankers through the Strait of Hormuz.
The RAF still has a number of Reaper drones based in nearby Kuwait - they are flying missions over Iraq and Syria but could be re-tasked if the decision is taken. The US already has surveillance aircraft operating above the [Persian] Gulf and Australia is sending a P8 maritime patrol aircraft. They are part of a growing coalition being formed to protect shipping in the region.
It has also emerged that Iranian naval forces were interrogating commercial vessels in the days after the Stena Impero incident, specifically asking if they had British crew onboard. The practice, at its height in July, appears to have stopped now, but it was a chilling development and looked designed to drag the UK further into the crisis.
The senior British naval officer in the region said the situation is still tense.
Commodore Dean Bassett told Sky News: "The direct threat to those British merchant vessels still stands. We've seen nothing to suggest that Iran is going to abide by its international obligations."
And he wouldn't rule out the use of military force if necessary, saying: "While we call on Iran to abide by its international obligations, the Royal Navy - my sailors, my Marines and the ships under my command - are absolutely ready to protect and defend British merchant vessels in this theatre."
The British frigate HMS Montrose is permanently stationed at the Royal Navy's facility in Bahrain. In recent months she has completed 38 transits of the Strait, escorting more than six million tonnes of cargo through 120 miles of high-risk waters.
She has recently been joined by the Destroyer HMS Duncan and two other warships, HMS Kent and HMS Defender, are en route.
Montrose's captain, Commander Will King, said the navy would stay in the area for the foreseeable future.
"We're in a position where we are providing steady state protection to British-registered shipping. I think there is still a threat to interference and hindrance but we are in a strong position to keep delivering that protection for as long as it takes."
Although Gibraltar released the Grace 1 tanker in August, the Stena Impero remains impounded in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. The Grace 1, since renamed the Adrian Darya 1, is still sailing around the eastern Mediterranean, unable to port because of EU sanctions.