Australia rejects US appeal for warships in Red Sea

US requests Australia's help in Red Sea

Australia will not send a warship to the Middle East, despite US requests, but will deploy additional personnel to help its closest ally.

The government was mulling a request from the US to deploy a Royal Australian Navy ship in the Red Sea and help secure international shipping lanes, as Houthi rebels continue their blockade of the area in a show of support for Palestine.

But on Thursday, Defence Minister Richard Marles confirmed the government would not directly deploy a warship and would instead send navy personnel.

“We won’t be sending a ship or a plane,” he told Sky News.

“That said, we will be almost tripling our contribution to the Combined Maritime Force.

“We need to be really clear around our strategic focus and our strategic focus is our region – the north-east Indian Ocean, the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Pacific.”

Up to six extra Australian Defence Force officers will be deployed to the Combined Maritime Forces in Bahrain in early 2024. Another five personnel will be embedded in the CMF headquarters for Operation Manitou, which supports international maritime security efforts in the Middle East and East Africa.

This will bring the total CMF contribution to 16 personnel.

While opposition spokesman for foreign affairs Simon Birmingham agreed Australia’s strategic priorities lie in the Indo-Pacific, he said the Suez Canal was also integral.

“We rely upon our alliances and our partnerships that contribute to and complement our focus in this region, just as those allies and partners would rightly expect us to contribute and partner in other operations,” he said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Wednesday said the best way for Australia to contribute to stability in the Red Sea was through diplomacy.

But Birmingham said the idea “doesn’t really pass muster”.

“Does anybody really think that the Australian government has some effective diplomatic back channel to the Houthi rebels in Yemen?” he told ABC radio on Thursday.

“What is needed here is practical security for international freight to be able to safely pass through one of the busiest freight channels in the world.”

More than 12 per cent of global trade flows through the Suez Canal, which is linked to the Red Sea.

Without practical measures, Birmingham said the Houthi ship diversions would add days of extra fuel and staffing costs.

“That will flow through to global inflation just at a time when Australians can no longer afford to pay for that inflation,” he said.

Since the October 7 invasion by Hamas – considered a terrorist group by the Australian government – wherein its fighters killed 1200 Israelis and took hundreds more refugees, Israel has unleashed a bombing campaign on the besieged Gaza Strip.

As violence stretches into its third month, nearly 20,000 Palestinians have been killed by Tel Aviv’s airstrikes, many more remain buried under rubble or on the brink of starvation, and about two million Gazans have been driven from their homes.


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