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Prince William on patrol in the world's key shipping lane just miles from Iran

  • Video report by ITV News Royal Editor Chris Ship

It was not without a lot of discussion at the highest levels of government that it was agreed Prince William should get into a patrol boat during his official Royal Tour of the Gulf and sail into the world’s most important shipping lane, just a couple of dozen miles from Iran.

So economically vital is the Strait of Hormuz - which links the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman - the Royal Navy has been forced to ramp up its warship presence here to escort British-registered vessels from one end to the other.

That decision was taken after the British-registered Stena Impero was seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard last summer after they stormed the ship and forced the crew to sail to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

At its narrowest point the Strait of Hormuz is just 21 miles wide - and the oil-rich Gulf states nervously dispatch more than a third of the world’s crude oil and almost half of its Liquid Petroleum Gas through these waters close to Iran, their powerful and unpredictable neighbour.

And stepping into this diplomatically sensitive location today was one of the most senior member of the British Royal Family.

The Duke of Cambridge also boarded an Omani warship at a navy base - at the tip of the Musandam peninsula, where on a clear day you can see the Iranian coast.

The images of the Duke of Cambridge in these waters off the coast of Oman will be viewed with a great deal of suspicion in Tehran.

The Duke of Cambridge watches a house clearance demonstration as part of his tour of Kuwait and Oman. Credit: PA

So why do this at a time of tensions with Iran?

The seizure of the Stena Impero was a huge embarrassment for the UK.

It prompted criticism that the government had taken its eye off the ball and that the Royal Navy had lost its historically important ability to protect British maritime interests around the world.

This shipping lane is also vital for the UK’s traditional allies in the Gulf (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE).

They all have economies which rely on the export of oil and gas.

Dispatching Prince William to the Strait of Hormuz, on his royal tour on behalf of the Foreign Office, sends a clear signal of support for the Omanis and the work its military does to control the shipping through the Strait.

The Duke of Cambridge met with members of the Royal Navy of Oman (RNO). Credit: PA

The Omani military has UK soldiers, sailors and airmen embedded with them throughout the year.

It also shows the UK’s allies in the region that the government supports them and their economies (which also fund the purchase of lots of British-made military hardware).

And it is a signal that the British Monarchy, at the highest level, is supporting the Royal Navy’s efforts to give ships safe passage through the Strait.

Royal Tours are all about projecting soft diplomacy abroad on behalf of the British government and this was a gentle reminder to the region that Britain supports the safe movement of merchant shipping in and out of the Gulf.