Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Strait of Hormuz: Australia to join US in Gulf effort to protect shipping

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia would provide a frigate, a surveillance aircraft and support staff

Marines observe nearby vessels passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Reuters
Marines observe nearby vessels passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Reuters

Australia is the latest country to announce it is joining the United States-led mission to protect shipping through the Strait of Hormuz amid heightened tensions with Iran.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia would provide a frigate, a P8 maritime surveillance aircraft and support staff to the mission after a series of attacks on international merchant vessels, which the United States has blamed on Iran, and the seizure of a British tanker.

"This destabilising behaviour is a threat to Australia's interests in the region," Mr Morrison told a news conference in 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.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper requested Australia’s help patrolling the strategic waterway during a visit to Sydney earlier this month.

Washington, which has by far the strongest Western naval contingent in the Gulf, has been calling for its allies to join it in an operation to guard shipping through the vital Strait of Hormuz.

The dog-leg channel is a vital shipping route for oil and gas from the Gulf to world markets. However, Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the waterway if it is barred from selling oil due to US sanctions imposed after President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal last year.

Mr Trump applied widespread sanctions in May designed to block all of Iran's oil exports, the lifeblood of Tehran's economy. Iranian officials denounced the new penalties as "economic warfare".

Canberra, although keen to avoid stoking tensions, was widely expected to join the U.S.-led maritime coalition.

Australia is a staunch ally of the United States, which in recent months has called on its partners to do more to defend global security.

Earlier this week, Bahrain became the first Gulf nation to formally say it planned to join the US led operation.

European nations initially discussed the idea of their own separate force although Germany was reluctant to provide warships and then the UK’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he intended to join the US mission.

Australia’s move follows a spate of incidents – including the seizure of ships – involving Iran and Western powers, in particular, Britain and the US, centred on the vital Gulf channel.

The new naval coalition was formed in response to increased tension in the Strait of Hormuz after attacks on oil tankers, which the US blamed on Iran.

A British warship has already been sent to join a US-led task force. American commercial ships have been told to notify the British and US naval authorities in advance of their planned movements through Gulf waters.

Iran seized the British flagged Stena Impero on July 19 in an international shipping channel just days after UK Marines stormed an Iranian vessel off Gibraltar on suspicion it was breaching EU sanctions to transport oil to Syria. The Stena Impero is still being detained but since the Iranian flagged Grace 1, now renamed Adrian Darya-1, has left Gibraltar attention has turned to the release of the British vessel.

Iran’s Deputy Transport Minister Mohammad Rastad said the case of Stena Impero had been submitted to a court in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas, the semi-official news agency Tasnim reported, without giving a date when it would be heard.

Updated: August 21, 2019 08:32 PM

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