South Korea’s navy dispatched a unit to fight pirates the Gulf of Aden Tuesday, fueling speculation that the ship could join up with the U.S. Navy patrolling the Strait of Hormuz amid rising tensions with Iran.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-see told reporters that the destroyer is carrying out a “routine mission.” But she added that South Korea is “reviewing various options” to protect Korean vessels in a region that supplies much of the country’s oil.
The Cheonghae unit is the Republic of Korea’s first overseas anti-piracy team. The destroyer, carrying 300 personnel, will take nearly a month to reach its mission, first stopping in waters off the coast of Somalia to relieve another unit.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper asked Seoul to play a part in the Strait of Hormuz coalition while he was visiting South Korea last month, according to sources at the defense ministry. The Pentagon has faced resistance in lining up partners to protest shipping in the narrow strait.
“Secretary Esper has said the patrol coalition would consist of around 30 countries but only the United Kingdom and Israel have officially expressed willingness to participate while Germany and Japan said they would not,” said Park Won-gon, a professor at Handong Global University.
Mr. Park told The Korean Times that Seoul’s potential participation could encourage other allies to join the coalition. But South Korea depends on Iranian oil, causing concerns that the relationship between the Republic of Korea and Iran may deteriorate.
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