HL Deb 15 June 1988 vol 498 cc263-4

Baroness Strange asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many British flagged ships have been successfully accompanied by the Royal Navy through the Straits of Hormuz so far this year.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement, (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, so far this year the Armilla patrol has accompanied 342 entitled ships through the Straits of Hormuz.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his courteous and useful reply. Is he aware that last year the Armilla patrol escorted 405 merchant ships through the Straits of Hormuz and that the only four ships attacked were not escorted by that patrol? Is my noble friend also aware that my aunt, my noble relative, is very grateful to the Royal Navy for its protection of British convoys across the Atlantic during the war, when she served as a second engineer in the Merchant Navy?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am greatly obliged to my noble friend for her appreciative words directed to the work of the Royal Navy in the Gulf. I was very interested to hear the second part of my noble friend's supplementary question.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we all admire the work of the Royal Navy in most difficult circumstances in the Gull? In view of the large number of ships tied up in the Gulf, can the Minister say whether the co-ordination of international forces to protect shipping there was discussed at the recent Moscow summit?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I do not think that the matter was discussed at the recent summit, certainly not as it might affect the Royal Navy. However, I can say that talks are going on with Dutch and Belgian authorities about closer co-ordination with their forces in the region.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, is not the Minister concerned at the fact that while foreign owners cynically and temporarily flag under the British register in order to secure the protection of the Royal Navy, British seafarers in British ships which are flagged out under foreign registers are exposed to great danger in the Gulf? Is the Minister further aware of the allegation by the National Union of Marine, Aviation and Shipping Transport Officers that although the Iraqi authorities warned the Foreign Office of an impending attack on the Bermuda flagged "Burmah Endeavour" the warning was not passed on to the ship? Will the Minister ensure that in future NUMAST, which is in telecommunication contact with ships, is informed of such warnings so that it can alert its British members, on British ships which are flagged out, of such impending attacks?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords. I am not aware of the details surrounding the events to which the noble Lord refers. I shall be happy to look into the matter to see whether there is any clarification I can give the noble Lord.

I should perhaps make clear in answer to the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary question that entitled ships are those either on the register of the United Kingdom or a dependent territory, or ships substantially owned by persons so entitled; in other words, substantially owned by a United Kingdom organisation or a dependent territory organisation. Thus, it follows that any ship which is flagged out but retains ownership as before would still normally be entitled to accompaniment by the Royal Navy.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, further to the supplementary question put by my noble friend Lord Murray, is it not the case that a British flagged tanker was attacked and severely damaged two days ago? Can the Minister say why that ship was not escorted by one of the ships from the Armilla patrol?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. There was an attack on the "Esso Demetia" a week or so ago. That ship was operating well outside the area in which the Royal Navy is normally able to offer assistance and was clearly aware of the risks being run. The size of our fleet in the Gulf is, of course, limited; we judge that it is not wise to spread our resources so thinly as to offer accompaniment to every part of the Gulf.

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