Australia Joins U.S.-Led Shipping Protection Mission in Strait of Hormuz

HMA Ships Anzac and Hobart perform a replenishment at sea off the east coast of Australia.
ABIS Craig Walton/Royal Australian Navy

Australia will join the United States and the UK in an international maritime coalition protecting oil tankers and cargo ships from threats posed by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday.

A series of attacks on merchant vessels in the past few months has disrupted shipping through the area, which the United States has blamed on Iran. Tehran has denied the accusations.

Australia’s effort will aid the U.S.-launched the campaign, dubbed Operation Sentinel, which seeks to ensure ships can exercise freedom of navigation through the strategic strait without restraint by hostile forces, a point touched on by Mr. Morrison.

“This destabilising behaviour is a threat to Australia’s interests in the region,” he told a news conference in the national capital Canberra.

“The government has decided that it is in Australia’s national interest to work with our international partners to contribute. Our contribution will be limited in scope and it will be time-bound,” he said.

Mr. Morrison said Australia will send a RAAF P-8A Poseidon surveillance plane to the Middle East for one month before the end of 2019. It will be followed by an Australian patrol frigate will be deployed in January 2020 for six months.

Tension in the region increased when the UK seized an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar last month, prompting Iran to retaliate by seizing a British tanker in the Persian Gulf.

“Fifteen to 16 per cent of crude oil and 25 to 30 per cent of refined oil destined for Australia transits through the Strait of Hormuz,” Mr. Morrison said.

“So it is a potential threat to our economy.”

Mr. Morrison spoke with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo early on Wednesday to inform them of Australia’s involvement.

There will be about 200 Australians involved in the operation, with 177 Defence personnel on the warship and 10 on the surveillance aircraft.

Meanwhile, AP reports the former head of Dutch defense forces said he believes the Netherlands should not take part in the mission if the aim is to pile more pressure on Iran.

The comments of former defense chief Dick Berlijn came in an interview published in Tuesday’s edition of Dutch daily De Volkskrant.

“I don’t think we should take part in an American operation in which we absolutely do not know what is going to happen,” he said.

Germany has already said it will not be involved.

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