S. Korean anti-piracy unit heads to Gulf of Aden

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Iranian guards patrolling around the impounded British-flagged tanker Stena Impero as it is anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. (AFP)
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The supertanker Grace 1 after being seized off the coast of Gibraltar. (AFP)
Updated 14 August 2019

S. Korean anti-piracy unit heads to Gulf of Aden

  • The Trump administration is maintaining its push for allies to join the coalition to protect commercial shipping in the waterway, through which 20 percent of the global oil supply flows

SEOUL: A South Korean anti-piracy naval contingent has been dispatched to the Gulf of Aden on a rotational mission, following speculation that the 300-strong force could join a US-led coalition patrolling the Strait of Hormuz amid tensions with Iran.
A ceremony took place on Tuesday for the 30th rotation of the Cheonghae Unit at the port city of Busan.
The contingent on board the 4,400-ton destroyer Kang Gam Chan is scheduled to conduct operations to protect vessels off the Somali coast for six months from September.
“As of now, the Kang Gam Chan will sail to the Gulf of Aden to carry out its routine mission,” said Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo. “We’re reviewing various options of protecting our vessels.”
Capt. Lee Sang-keun, head of the 30th rotational batch, said: “We’re fully ready to conduct missions wherever our people need help.”
A senior officer of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said on condition of anonymity: “The unit is heading for the Gulf of Aden first, then it could be dispatched to the Strait of Hormuz at the order of command.”
But the officer said no formal decision has been made for the unit to join the US-led campaign.
According to officials in Seoul, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper raised the issue of South Korea potentially joining the campaign during a one-on-one meeting with his counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo on Aug. 9.
Jeong reportedly expressed support for the US-led initiative to safeguard freedom of navigation, while asking for Washington’s help to resolve a trade feud with Japan.
The Trump administration is maintaining its push for allies to join the coalition to protect commercial shipping in the waterway, through which 20 percent of the global oil supply flows. The route is vital for South Korea, as about 70 percent of oil imports come via the waterway.
Currently, only the UK and Israel have joined the campaign. Iran has warned that such an international naval presence in the Strait of Hormuz will increase the “risk of combustion” in the region.
A day after Esper visited Seoul, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Sayyed Abbas Moussawi urged South Korea to remain neutral, citing economic ties between the two nations. “(South) Korea’s possible joining of the coalition is not a good signal for us, and it will make things complicated,” Moussawi was quoted by the Yonhap news agency as saying.
Rep. Kim Jong-dae of the Justice Party expressed concern that Seoul’s possible partaking in the mission would compromise the country’s economic ties with one of the largest oil exporters.
“Iran is one of the largest trade partners with South Korea. Are you sending troops to the waters of Iran to protect shipping of oil from Iran? It’s absurd,” the lawmaker said in a news conference at the National Assembly on Wednesday.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Dispatch follows speculation that it could join US-led coalition patrolling Strait of Hormuz. • The Trump administration is maintaining its push for allies to join the coalition to protect commercial shipping in the waterway.

“Once sending forces to the region, we should bear the burden of economic damage. I don’t think we’re prepared for that risk now,” added Kim, a member of the National Assembly’s Defense Committee.
“I was told by a military source that the Kang Gam Chan was fitted with underwater search systems to detect torpedoes and mines ... The unit is also known to have recently been involved in training exercises to thwart drone attacks. These are clear steps to prepare for the Hormuz dispatch.”
As for whether the destroyer has been armed with new defense equipment, Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi said: “That is something that can be done depending on the needs at the site. There hasn’t been any big change (in weapons systems).”
Some civic groups said the dispatch of the Cheonghae Unit must be approved by Parliament. “The Cheonghae Unit has been sent to the Gulf of Aden for the sake of international peacekeeping, but the Strait of Hormuz is a spot where military tensions between the US and Iran are escalating,” said Park Jin-seok, a member of Lawyers for Democratic Society. “Sending troops to the volatile region is against the law.”


Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

Updated 17 November 2019

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

  • Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June
  • China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police Monday warned for the first time that they may use “live rounds” after pro-democracy protesters fired arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers at a beseiged university campus, as the crisis engulfing the city veered deeper into danger.
Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.
China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.
Three protesters have been shot by armed police in the unrelenting months of protests. But all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out — and without such warnings being given.
A day of intense clashes, which saw a police officer struck in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, intensified as night fell.
Clashes rolled across Kowloon, with the epicenter around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), where scores of defiant demonstrators set large fires to prevent police from conducting a threatened raid on the campus.
They hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from water cannon and hurled molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Police said they fired at a car late Sunday that had driven at a line of officers near the campus — but the vehicle reversed and escaped.
Protesters at the campus appeared resolute — a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.
“I feel scared. There’s no way out, all I can do is fight to the end,” said one protester joining the barricade in front of the university building.
“We need a base to keep our gear and have some rest at night before another fight in the morning,” another called Kason, 23, told AFP.
On Sunday, activists parried attempts by police to break through into the PolyU campus, firing rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers — several carrying sports bows — patrolling the campus.
Violence has worsened in recent days, with two men killed in separate incidents linked to the protests this month.
Chinese President Xi Jinping this week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.
Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong’s train network and close schools and shopping malls.
The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing the protesters’ ability to switch tactics.
The protests started against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the former British colony.
The financial hub has been nudged into a recession by the unrelenting turmoil.
A poster circulating on social media called for the “dawn action” to continue on Monday.
“Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure,” it said.
The education bureau said schools will remain closed again on Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, dozens of government supporters gathered to clear barricades near the university campus — a sign of the divisions slicing through the city.
Many residents are wearied by the sapping protests. Others support the Chinese-backed city government.
Some applauded a Saturday clean-up by Chinese troops from a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army in Kowloon.
The garrison is usually confined to the barracks under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, although it can be deployed at the request of the city’s government to help with public order breakdown or natural disasters.
Hong Kong’s government, which presides over a city that enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland, said it did not ask the PLA for help on Saturday.
The choreographed troop movement “has only compounded the impression that Beijing has simply ignored” Hong Kong’s unique political system, said analyst Dixon Sing.