SYDNEY – Australia will join a United States-led coalition to ensure freedom of international trade and navigation in the Strait of Hormuz amid tensions with Iran and after a spate of attacks on vessels in the region, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Wednesday.
“This destabilizing behavior is a threat to Australian interests in the region,” Morrison told reporters, reasoning that “15 to 16 percent of crude oil and 25 to 30 percent of refined oil destined for Australia transits through the Strait of Hormuz.”
“Our contribution will be limited in scope and it will be time-bound,” he added.
Australia will deploy a P-8 surveillance aircraft for one month and a warship for six months along with a small group of military experts stationed at the coalition’s center of operations, Defense Minister Linda Reynolds said.
The United States asked Australia to contribute to the coalition in the Gulf to respond to what the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described earlier this month in Sydney as “unprovoked attacks” by Iran on maritime transport in the Strait of Hormuz.
“The United States is pulling this together, but it’s also the UK’s view that this provides the opportunity for others to be involved in a multinational engagement,” Morrison said during a press conference.
The US-led coalition, which has not received much support from the international community, seeks to escort ships in the region, but Iran has warned that the move may increase the chances of a conflict.
The Australian government’s announcement follows an escalation of tensions in the Persian Gulf, where several incidents have been reported since May.
These include the seizure of the British-flagged oil tanker “Stena Impero” by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard on July 19 in apparent retaliation for the capture of Iranian tanker “Grace 1” in early July by Gibraltar authorities – with help from the British Royal Marines.
Tehran said the tanker violated international maritime rules, an accusation which both the ship’s owner and London have denied.
The United Kingdom said “Grace 1,” which was carrying 2.1 million barrels of crude oil, was seized on suspicion that it was transporting crude oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions against that country’s government.
“Grace 1,” renamed the “Adrian Darya 1,” left Gibraltar on Sunday and Iranian authorities are expected to release the “Stena Impero” shortly, considering they previously had floated the idea of a tanker exchange.