SEOUL: South Korea is considering sending its own ships to the Strait of Hormuz to safeguard its vessels rather than joining an international maritime security alliance, a presidential aide has said.
Around 70 percent of its oil imports pass through the waterway, making it crucial for the country’s ships to be protected from piracy and other threats.
But, amid tension in the Middle East following the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani from a US airstrike and in a bid to avoid a feud with key oil producer Iran, the South might send its own naval unit to the strait.
“Internally, there has been considerable progress (about the Hormuz dispatch),” Noh Young-min, presidential chief of staff, told a local radio program following a National Security Council meeting. “We should make efforts to protect the lives and properties of our people and companies in the region, as well as safeguard freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz.”
Talks with Iranian authorities were also underway to defuse diplomatic problems, he added.
“We’re going to explain the issues (to Iran) in advance,” Noh said, responding to a question about a possible rift between Seoul and Tehran should a ship be sent to the strait. “We hope bilateral relations will not be affected.”
The anti-piracy Cheonghae Unit is operating in the Gulf of Aden and is likely to extend its mission to the Strait of Hormuz once a decision is made.
South Korea has not indicated it will join the US-led “Operation Sentinel” coalition guarding the strait, despite insistence from President Donald Trump’s administration that it shoulder some of the costs.
In a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-hwa on Tuesday in Palo Alto near San Francisco, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for collective maritime security efforts.
“Overall, (Pompeo) emphasized the importance of collective efforts by the international community,” a top South Korean diplomat told reporters, asking not to be named.
The diplomat said Pompeo pointed to the repercussions for the global economy from instability in the Strait of Hormuz, including a hike in oil prices, and stressed the need for all countries to contribute to bringing stability to the region.
Operation Sentinel’s members include Australia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the UK and Albania, with leadership and headquarters coordination provided by US Naval Forces Central Command.