Australia deploys defence to Hormuz strait


Australia will join the US-led mission to protect shipping through the Strait of Hormuz amid heightened tensions with Iran, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Wednesday.

Mr Morrison said Australia would provide a frigate, a P8 maritime surveillance aircraft and support staff to the mission, which will also involve British forces.

There will be around 200 Australians involved in the deployment, including 177 Defence personnel on the warship and 10 on the surveillance aircraft.

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

The 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.

Mr Morrison said the government had been concerned over incidents in shipping

in the Strait of Hormuz over the past few months.

"This is a threat to our interests and ensuring global trading lanes," he said.

"Thirty per cent of refined oil destined for Australia travels through the Strait.

"It is a threat to our economy.

"The rules concerning freedom of navigation, particularly under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, whether that's in the Middle East or indeed closer to home, we are part of that."

Mr Morrison said the issue impacted global security and stability.

"We support the concept of an international maritime presence in the region that would enable the international community to respond to incidents and threats as they occur to ensure freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce," he said.

"This will be an enhancement of our existing and longstanding contribution to counter piracy and counter-terrorism missions in the waters of the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

"Australia will defend our interests, wherever they may be under threat.

"The international environment is very difficult. The global economy is facing rising headwinds. Rising geopolitical tensions and protectionism is weighing heavily on global confidence and growth."

However, the Prime Minister denied we were being pulled into another US-led military effort in the Middle East.

"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 multi-national engagement," he said.

Australia has had a near continuous presence in the Middle East since the 1990s.


Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison visits USS Ronald Reagan off the coast of Brisbane as part of a joint America and Australia Operation Talisman Sabre 2019 on July 12, 2019. Picture: Adam Taylor
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison visits USS Ronald Reagan off the coast of Brisbane as part of a joint America and Australia Operation Talisman Sabre 2019 on July 12, 2019. Picture: Adam Taylor


The Strait of Hormuz is a thin sea strip which serves as one of the world's most important trade routes for oil shipments.

Given how reliant the global economy is on oil and the sheer volume of it flowing through the Strait of Hormuz every day, it's perhaps no surprise that a series of attacks on tankers in the strip have led to a major escalation in tension in recent months between the US and Iran.

In his speech, Mr Morrison said about 15 per cent of crude oil and 30 per cent of refined oil destined for Australia came through the Strait of Hormuz, meaning instability in the region also poses an economic threat to us.

In Australia's case, this is in part because our nation is over-reliant on the global oil supply.

Since 2012, Australia has been in breach of its international obligations to hold a 90-day minimum of fuel reserves as set out by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

This is basically the amount of crude oil we have onshore that we can dip into or share if the global oil supply faces disruptions.

Based on our current supply, we could only sustain ourselves for 55 days - the only one of the IEA's 30 member states not meeting its 90-day obligation.

Because the Strait of Hormuz is so thin, it means that anyone wanting to cause chaos on the world's oil markets can easily reach the ships passing though and escape back to land in almost no time at all.

If said chaos was to break out, we could find our own oil supplies rapidly dwindling.

Australia's latest military pledge should not come as a major surprise. Last month, experts spoke to said it was likely we would be called on to participate in the event of conflict, in line with our historical commitments.

Going back to the 1950s, the US and its allies - including Australia - spent millions of dollars over many decades to ensure the region was secure.

This escalated to a full-on conflict, known as the Tanker War, between Iran and the US in the late 1980s.

Experts have also said if we chose to donate our resorces, we should stress the actions are "designed to uphold freedom of navigation in the region" without demonising Tehran.