Australian navy ship deploys to Middle East
An Australian navy frigate is today deploying to the Middle East to join a US-led coalition protecting oil tankers from attack by Iranian interests.
In a mission described by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as "modest" and "time-limited", 160 sailors on the HMAS Toowoomba are expected to leave Western Australia bound for the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping route off Iran.
The six-month deployment is part of Australia's commitment following a US request for military support in the face of Iran's "destabilising behaviour" in the strait, where 20 per cent of the world's oil passes through.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said sailors on the Toowoomba would be working to support Australia's "safe and open access" to the critical oil route.
"This highly capable vessel will focus on promoting maritime security, stability and prosperity in the Middle East by supporting counter-terrorism, preventing piracy and freedom of navigation," she said.
"The importance of this deployment cannot be overstated in the Middle East and the Indian Ocean region and is essential to the security of our nation and our economy."
Fears for the safety of ships in the strait escalated after Iran's seizure of a British-flagged tanker in July 2019.
Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Michael Noonan said the Toowoomba's crew had worked "tirelessly" to prepare for the deployment and he thanked the sailors' families for their support.
"We ask a lot of the men and women of Toowoomba who leave their families and friends for this deployment, but we also ask as much from those they leave behind," he said.
It comes just over a week after Iran launched a series of missiles at coalition bases in Iraq in retaliation for the US assassination of Iranian Quds Force boss, Qassem Soleimani.
The navy frigate is the final element of Australia's commitment, which included a month-long deployment of a Royal Australian Air Force P-8A Poseidon to patrol and provide surveillance of the critical shipping route last year.
A team of Australian Defence Force planning and operation staff were also sent to the International Maritime Security Construct headquarters in Bahrain.
Mr Morrison described the deployment as a "meaningful" contribution."
He added it was "essential to the country's security and economy".
"Australia will defend our interests wherever they may be under threat, we will always work closely with our international allies," he said.
Australia has about 300 personnel deployed to Iraq and a decision was taken to leave them there after the missile strikes on coalition bases.
Iran's strike followed days of mourning for Soleimani, who was killed on President Donald Trump's orders.