Australia has agreed to join a U.S.-led naval contingent protecting commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman amid alleged attacks by Iran against vessels operating in the strategic waterways.
Australia will join Britain and Bahrain as part of a maritime security mission to escort commercial shipping in the region, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Wednesday. He said his government would lend a frigate, patrol plane and specialist defense force personnel.
Canberra's contribution was meant to be "modest, meaningful and time limited," Morrison said.
Initially, Australia's contribution will last just six months, although it could be extended, he said.
"We can't predict the future, we can only plan. And we can only base commitments on the situation as we understand it," the prime minister said.
A P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance plane will join the mission before the end of the year and a Royal Australian Navy frigate will deploy with the security flotilla in January for six months, he said.
The U.S. blames Iran for attacks against international shipping in and around the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow conduit that separates the Persian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman through which much of the world's supply of oil passes.
"This destabilizing behavior is a threat to Australia's interests in the region," Morrison said, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
"The government has decided that it is in Australia's national interest to work with our international partners to contribute," he said.
At least 15% of the crude oil and up to 30% of refined oil destined for Australia goes via tanker through the waterway, according to The Associated Press.
In June, two tankers were attacked in those waters. Washington released a video it said shows Iran's Revolutionary Guard using a small boat to surreptitiously attach mines on the hull of one of the ships. Tehran has denied the claim.
Last month, Iran seized a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, after British Royal Marines intercepted an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar, claiming that it was carrying oil destined for Syria — a violation of European sanctions. The Iranian vessel was released earlier this week, but the Stena Impero is still held in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.
Washington has been trying to enlist the help of its allies in forming a maritime protection force in the region, but most have expressed reluctance to join.
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