A new trade union and industry agreement on work on board ships in the Strait of Hormuz, near the coast of Iran, means sailors in the UK now have the right to refuse to work in the area, following increasing tensions in the area.

Events in the Gulf over the last four months have included attacks on four tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and the illegal seizure of the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, with the threat to commercial shipping rising.

At the time of writing, the Stena Impero remains offshore Iran with 23 seafarers onboard.

The Strait of Hormuz is the busiest narrow shipping passage in the world and a vital transit zone, with 20% of the world’s oil passing through it every year.

The new agreement follows the temporary designation of the Strait of Hormuz as a high-risk area and government advice to avoid the area unless accompanied by UK naval support.

The decision was made on 29 July 2019 at an extraordinary meeting of the so-called Warlike Operations Area Committee (WOAC), which is made up of the trade unions Nautilus International and RMT as well as the UK Chamber of Shipping.

The temporary agreement applies to all vessels entered into the UK Chamber and the clauses are invoked if flag state and industry guidance is not complied with.

That includes UK flagged vessels that refuse a military accompanied transit and vessels that do not take account of relevant guidance from industry bodies.

The agreement gives seafarers the right to refuse to work on board vessels transiting the Strait of Hormuz. Crew can request to leave the ship at a preceding port, for example.

According to union sources, seafarers on vessels transiting the area could also receive double basic pay, in addition to other remuneration earned, in recognition of the higher risks associated with transiting and operating in the zone.

Last reviewed 12 August 2019