HC Deb 20 February 1985 vol 73 c490W
Mr. Allen McKay

asked the Secretary of State for Transport how many British seamen have been killed or wounded in each of the years of the conflict between Iraq and Iran; whether he will estimate the damage to British shipping for each of the years concerned; and what urgent steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to safeguard British lives in international waters.

Mr. David Mitchell

Prior to 1984 no British seafarers were killed or injured as a result of attacks on shipping in the Gulf. In 1984 two British seafarers were killed and six were injured. Three British divers were also killed in 1984.

Shortly after the beginning of the conflict between Iran and Iraq in the Autumn of 1980 a large number of ships were trapped in the Shatt-al-Arab. Among these were three British ships. It is understood that insurance claims for loss by detention in Iraq have been paid in respect of these vessels but my Department has no details of the amounts involved.

In 1984 two British-registered ships were attacked in the Gulf. The Charming was extensively damaged but the British Renown sustained only slight damage. My Department has no figures to indicate the cost of repairs involved.

Her Majesty's Government deplore the continued attacks on neutral shipping in international waters which put at risk the lives of innocent seafarers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has protested to the responsible Governments on each occasion when British seafarers have been killed or injured and following the attacks on the Charming and British Renown. The Government have also supported resolutions in the Security Council upholding the principle of free navigation in international waters.

The Government have been concerned about the safety of navigation in the Gulf since the beginning of the conflict. I have no powers to direct British ships not to enter this area, but I have periodically issued guidance on the situation to shipowners and seafarers through the General Council of British Shipping and the seafarers' unions, most recently on 15 February in these terms: The Iran/Iraq conflict continues to present a threat to shipping in the Gulf. The Government's advice to British shipping companies remains that they should consider the latest information on the situation in the Gulf before deciding to send vessels into the area. It is for the companies to inform their crews about the risks involved. Masters should exercise all necessary vigilance whilst in the Gulf. It is British shipowners' normal practice to inform their crews when a voyage will involve a passage within the Gulf and to afford seamen an opportunity to leave a ship if they wish before it enters the war zone designated under the National Maritime Board agreement between the General Council of British Shipping and the seafarers' unions. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has made arrangements for seamen to obtain advice from diplomatic posts in the areas of potential danger. British seamen can of course call on the services of consular officials in the usual way.