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Australian Military Headed To Middle East To Protect Oil Ships From Iran Attack

Australian ships will head to the Middle East in response to Iranian aggression in the hot zone of the Strait of Hormuz, joining an American coalition to protect oil tankers from attack.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Tuesday that Australia would make a "limited" contribution to the U.S.-led group, to protect oil and cargo ships in the Strait of Hormuz, between Oman and Iran.

The area has been a hotspot in recent months of rising tensions between the Unites States and Iran, with drones shot down and oil tankers bombed.

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"This destabilising behaviour is a threat to Australia's interests in the region," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday morning.

"The government has decided that it is in Australia's national interest to work with our international partners to contribute. Our contribution will be limited in scope and it will be time bound."

It is being described as an "international maritime security mission".

Scott Morrison has announced Australia will assist in the Strait of Hormuz coalition. Photo: AAP

In a statement, Morrison, foreign affairs minister Marise Payne and defence minister Linda Reynolds said Australia will deploy:

  • a P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft to the Middle East for one month before the end of 2019;
  • an Australian Frigate in January 2020 for six months;
  • ADF personnel to the International Maritime Security Construct headquarters in Bahrain.

"The Government has been concerned with incidents involving shipping in the Strait of Hormuz over the past few months. This destabilising behaviour is a threat to Australian interests in the region," the PM and ministers said in the statement.

"Freedom of navigation through international waters is a fundamental right of all states under international law. All states have a right to expect safe passage of their maritime trade consistent with international law."

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

A narrow patch of water which separates Oman and Iran, the Strait of Hormuz is one of the most important shipping routes in the world, with some 40 percent of the global oil trade passing through the area.

An Iranian navy boat sprays water to extinguish a fire on an oil tanker in the Strait in June. Photo: Getty

It has also been the epicentre of ratcheting tensions between old adversaries Iran and the USA in recent months.

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Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. drone in June, after claiming it had entered their airspace. Several oil tankers have been bombed in the region -- American officials blamed Iran, but Iran denied responsibility.

In recent weeks, British authorities seized an Iranian tanker believed to be headed to Syria, followed by a British tanker being seized by Iran in what was believed to be an act of retaliation.

All the while, oil prices worldwide have shot up.

A series of attacks on oil tankers near the Persian Gulf has ratcheted up tensions between the US and Iran. (Image: AAP)

"Our contribution will be modest, meaningful and time limited – and it will be part of an international mission," the government statement read.

Defence minister Reynolds had previously said the government was considering the American request to assist in any effort to protect ships in the area.

"Australia is very reliant on traffic in the Strait of Hormuz. We are very keen to make sure shipping can proceed safely," she said.

More to come.