Attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz during 2019, made US urge for allies to join a planned maritime security mission. While now South Korea will deploy its forces to the area, Reuters reports that it will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct.
The US welcomed this decision by South Korea.
The Strait of Hormuz is a crucial passageway into the Gulf, where ships sail through around 900 times a year for South Korea. The latter gets more than 70% of its oil from the Middle East.
However, South Koreans are divided for this decision. According to a survey by pollster Realmeter, 48.4% of South Koreans are opposed to dispatching soldiers to the Strait, while 40.3% support it.
Nevertheless, the move was broadly supported by lawmakers, with some saying however that it could risk Iran ties and the safety of South Koreans in the area. What is more, several progressive activist groups criticized the decision, noting that they will stage a protest in front of the president’s office on January 22.
The 302-strong unit operates a 4,500-ton destroyer, a Lynx anti-submarine helicopter and three speed boats. It will now continue with its mission, while also cooperating with the coalition.
Except South Korea, another major Asian country has taken a similar decision. Namely, Japan has decided to dispatch a warship and patrol planes to the Arabian Gulf. Defence Minister Taro Kono commented on this decision, noting that 90% of Japan's oil travels through those waters, which are a lifeline for the Japanese economy.
In May and June 2019, several attacks occurred on international merchant vessels in the region, including the Japanese-owned tanker Kokuka Courageous, which the US blamed on Iran. However, Tehran denied the allegations.
What is more, after the death of the Iranian commander, Qassem Soleimani by a US drone, the US Maritime Administration (MARAD) officially published an advisory in order to warn the US ships located across the Middle East waterways of the possible Iranian maritime threats.