South Korea considers joining coalition to patrol waters off Iran

South Korean naval vessels sail across the Yeosu Sea in this file photo. (Shutterstock)
Updated 12 July 2019

South Korea considers joining coalition to patrol waters off Iran

  • Multinational naval force aims to protect shipping in Arabian Gulf in face of Tehran threats

SEOUL: The South Korean government is in discussions with the US over plans to join a multinational naval coalition to protect shipping in the Arabian Gulf in the face of alleged Iranian threats, Foreign Ministry officials revealed on Thursday.

The move came after Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated the US was holding talks with several nations to send ships to safeguard waters surrounding Iran and Yemen.

“The (South Korean) government is concerned about the escalation of tensions in the Middle East region,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim In-chul said in a briefing. 

“Our position is that freedom of navigation and commerce should not be put into jeopardy.”

The spokesman said his ministry has yet to receive any formal request on the coalition matter.

“We’ll keep discussing the issue with the US side,” Kim said. “No details have been discussed yet about when, how and what we would do.”

Washington is seeking to enlist its allies for a multinational coalition to operate in waters off Iran and Yemen to secure commercial shipping and prevent attacks that could harm the world’s oil supply.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. (AFP)

A fifth of the oil that is consumed globally passes through the Strait of Hormuz, connecting the Indian Ocean with the Gulf. 

“We’re engaging now with a number of countries to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom of navigation both in the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab Al-Mandeb,” Dunford said on Tuesday.

“Probably over the next couple of weeks we’ll identify which nations have the political will to support that initiative and then we’ll work directly with the militaries to identify the special capabilities that will support that.”

He said the US military would provide “command and control” ships, while other coalition members should send ships to patrol waters between the American naval vessels.

South Korea has participated in previous US-led coalition operations, as the country has long been dependent on US military forces for protection against North Korea, with the two Koreas technically still at war.

In 2004, South Korea sent a 3,600-strong continent to Iraq for humanitarian and rehabilitation operations. About 200 engineers and medics were also dispatched to Afghanistan in support of the US war on terrorism.

The South Korean Navy is a member of anti-piracy operations in the Somali waters. 

The unit, called “Cheonghae,” has escorted thousands of South Korean and international vessels in and around the Gulf of Aden since 2009.

As of February, the Cheonghae Unit escorted 21,895 vessels and conducted 21 operations to counter piracy on the seas, according to the service. 

The total sailing distance of the unit amounted to 1.95 million km.

It also takes part in the Combined Maritime Force, a multinational naval force dedicated to maintaining maritime safety and combating piracy, and conducts joint military drills with the EU’s maritime security operations.

Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

Updated 20 July 2019

Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

  • Hazza Al-Mansoori 'living a dream' as he and backup astronaut train for space mission in September
  • Soyuz-MS 15 launch could be the beginning of a bold new era of Arab exploration of space

DUBAI: More than 30 years after an Arab first journeyed into space, an  Emirati is preparing to become the latest Arab space traveler when he joins a team of astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) in September.

For months, Hazza Al-Mansoori and backup pilot Sultan Al-Neyadi have been undergoing intensive training in Russia, Germany and the US to prepare for the mission. The first Emirati to travel into space will make the historic journey on board a Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft due to take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 25.

During the eight-day mission, he will conduct a tour of the ISS for Arabic viewers on Earth and carry out 15 experiments for the Science in Space schools competition conducted by Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center.

The crew, who will include an American and a Russian, are allowed to take up to 1 kg of personal items with them on the mission.

“I will take my family photo and share the experience of being in space with them,” Al-Mansoori said. There will also be an image of Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s founding father, meeting American astronauts in 1976.

“I am also going to take an Emirati flag. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.”

‘I will take an Emirati flag into space. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.’

Emirati astronaut Hazza Al-Mansoori

Al-Mansoori will join an elite space club comprising Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Salman and Syria’s Muhammed Faris. Prince Sultan became the first Arab to travel to space as part of space shuttle Discovery’s crew in 1985. Faris was a crew member of USSR’s Soyuz spacecraft in 1987.

The Emirati astronaut is aware that history is resting on his shoulders. Speaking to the media recently during his training program in Houston, Al-Mansoori  said it is a huge personal honor to be the first Emirati chosen for space exploration.

“I’m excited about the whole mission, but especially to experience the microgravity and be living in the ISS, and conducting daily experiments and working with the amazing group on board,” he said.

Al-Mansoori and Al-Neyadi have been undergoing rigorous training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The program includes familiarization with NASA equipment on board the space station, and handling emergency situations, such as ammonia gas leaks and depressurization.

The Emiratis have been trained to fend for themselves if the return goes off course and they land in the wilderness of Russia.

Speaking of the Soyuz-MS 15 mission, Yousuf Al-Shaibani, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, said: “We strive to see the UAE Astronaut Program achieve its objective of preparing generations of Emiratis who will contribute to enhancing the country’s position in space science and research to serve the ambitious aspirations aimed at building a national knowledge-based economy.”

The September launch could prove to be the beginning of a bold new era for Arabs and space. Al-Neyadi, the backup pilot, has been promised a seat on a future mission, and the UAE and Saudi Arabia are drawing up ambitious plans for the development of the region’s space industry.