Australia Joins U.S. Naval Coalition in Persian Gulf

HMAS Bellarat, a frigate of the Royal Australian Navy (file image courtesy USN)

Published Aug 21, 2019 7:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

Australia has formally agreed to assist the U.S.-led coalition to provide maritime security for the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf, joining Britain and Bahrain. 

"[Iran's] destabilizing behavior is a threat to Australia's interests in the region," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Wednesday. "The government has decided that it is in Australia's national interest to work with our international partners to contribute."

Morrison emphasized that the effort would be "modest, meaningful and time limited," and he added that Australia's participation was about "freedom of shipping," not about the U.S. "maximum pressure" campaign of economic sanctions on Iran. He linked the decision to Australian energy security: the nation is highly dependent upon the import of refined products, and about one quarter of this supply transits through the Strait of Hormuz, he said. 

Australia will send one frigate and one maritime surveillance aircraft to assist the coalition, along with military personnel. The aircraft will deploy towards the end of this year, and the frigate will arrive in 2020, he said. 

The agreement is in keeping with Australia's long tradition of providing military assistance to the United States. Australian forces have fought alongside American troops in most major overseas military engagements since the First World War - including the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the ongoing war on terror. 

Bahrain, the Persian Gulf monarchy that is home to U.S. Fifth Fleet, announced earlier this week that it would also join the effort. King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa formally committed to the alliance in a meeting with U.S. CENTCOM commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie. "Global security and stability depends on the free flow of commerce and ultimately its security depends on what happens in this critical region," the king said in a statement carried by CENTCOM. "This region, in turn, depends on the vital strategic partnership between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the United States of America."

South Korea and Israel have also been named as potential participants but have not yet made public commitments. 

Stena Bulk appeals to Iran for tanker's release

Iranian forces have been holding the Swedish-owned tanker Stena Impero since July 19, when Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commandos boarded the vessel from a helicopter and directed her to an anchorage off Bandar Abbas. The Impero is flagged in the UK, and the act was widely seen as a form of retaliation for Britain's seizure of the Iranian-controlled tanker Grace 1 on July 4. The Impero's crew remains in Iranian custody, though no British nationals are aboard.

Erik Hanell, the CEO of shipowner Stena Bulk, met Tuesday with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Stockholm to press the case for the crew's safe return. Zarif was visiting Stockholm for talks with Swedish officials.

"It was important for us to emphasize the importance of the release of the 23 crew members of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationalities, who have now been held on board for nearly five weeks and whose families were getting extremely concerned about their loved ones," Hanell said in a statement. He also thanked Zarif for allowing embassy officials from the crewmembers' respective countries to access the vessel and for helping the crewmembers to make calls back to their familes at home.