SEOUL – South Korea’s military announced on Tuesday that it will dispatch a fleet to the Gulf of Aden to take part in anti-piracy missions as the United States tries to shore up support for its naval coalition in the nearby Strait of Hormuz.
The South Korean contingent will depart from the port city of Busan on Tuesday and will join the international anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia starting September for a period of six months, the country’s defense ministry said.
This deployment has been interpreted as a move by the US-allied country to eventually join the mission that Washington is trying to push for in the Persian Gulf to escort oil tankers amid tensions with Iran, although this has been ruled out by Seoul for the moment.
The South Korean government has not had any working-level contacts with the US over the possible participation of these forces in Washington’s initiative, defense ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo said in a press conference, according to local news agency Yonhap.
Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said last week that Seoul was analyzing various options to protect its oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.
Jeong made these remarks after a meeting with the US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who stressed the importance of freedom of navigation in the region and called for international support for the mission.
The South Korean contingent includes 300 troops and a 4,400-ton Destroyer as well as an Underwater Demolition Team, a Navy SEAL team, Marines and Navy pilots. It aims to protect the country’s vessels crossing the Gulf of Aden.
Its presence in the waters would make it easier for it to eventually join the initiative in the Persian Gulf owing to its geographical proximity and because it would not require additional parliamentary formalities.
So far, the United Kingdom and Israel have agreed to join the US-led maritime mission to protect freighters in the Strait of Hormuz, while other countries such as Germany have refused to back it and Japan has been cautious.