South Korea may contribute troops to a U.S.-led maritime security initiative to help protect oil tankers and other commercial vessels from Iranian aggression in the Strait of Hormuz, the Korea Times reported over the weekend.
Seoul is considering deploying an advanced warship to the Strait of Hormuz as early as August at the behest of the United States, the Korea Times noted Friday, citing anonymous sources.
“It is obvious that we have to protect our ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz, isn’t it? So we’re considering various possibilities,” Col. Roh Jae-cheon, a spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Ministry, told reporters on Monday, according to Reuters.
“We are looking into various options to ensure the safety of our vessels,” the South Korean colonel added, according to United Press International (UPI). “Some news reports have mentioned a dispatch of troops close to the current Cheonghae Unit, but nothing has been decided.”
Roh was referring to the South Korean Navy’s anti-piracy unit that has been combating pirates off the coast of Somalia since 2009.
The United States asked South Korea, Japan, France, Germany, Australia, and others to join the initiative in the Strait of Hormuz.
“South Korea would send the Cheonghae unit to the Strait as the U.S. is seeking to enlist other allies for a coalition to operate in waters off Iran and Yemen to increase the safety of commercial shipping and prevent possible attacks that could harm oil supplies,” one unnamed source told the Korea Times.
The region is considered the world’s most strategically important passage for international trade, where 20 percent of the global oil supply flows.
“We are keeping close tabs on the situation of the Strait of Hormuz to brace for various possibilities,” Roh declared.
South Korea has yet to confirm specific details of the plan such as its timeline.
Citing unidentified senior South Korean government officials, the Maekyung business newspaper, reiterated Monday that Seoul is planning to join the U.S.-led maritime force in the Strait of Hormuz, Reuters pointed out.
South Korea has relied on U.S. forces for deterrence against North Korea for decades. The American ally has played a role in previous U.S.-led coalition operations.
“Let me thank you for your leadership in regions where there are challenges and where tension is rising, especially in the Strait of Hormuz. I think your leadership in trying to keep things stable there has been very much appreciated,” Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha declared in a meeting with U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton last week.
Tensions between Iran and the United States have intensified since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the controversial 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and American-led world powers. The Trump administration reimposed sanctions suspended under the accord as part of an unprecedented wave of sanctions currently choking the Iranian economy.
In recent months, the U.S. has accused Iran of targeting several oil tankers in and around the Strait of Hormuz from Saudi Arabia, Norway, and Japan. Iran’s recent nefarious activities activity culminated in its seizure of the British Stena Impero on July 19.
Tehran has denied attacking some of the oil tankers.