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South Korea will send a navy ship to the Strait of Hormuz in response to a request from the United States to help guard tanker traffic through the world’s biggest oil chokepoint.
Reuters reports the ship is currently patrolling the waters off the northeastern African coast.
“The South Korean government decided to temporarily expand the deployment of the Cheonghae military unit,” an official from the Korean defence ministry told media. However, this will not make South Korea part of a U.S.-led coalition for the Strait of Hormuz.
South Korea used to be one of the top buyers of Iranian oil and chances are it doesn’t want to damage its relations with Tehran beyond repair with a view to Washington eventually lifting the sanctions that snapped back on Iran after President Trump pulled out of the so-called Iran nuclear deal.
The anti-piracy vessel has been deployed in the Gulf of Aden since 2009 with the main purpose of countering Somali piracy as part of an international initiative involving the European Union, the United States, and several African countries.
The Cheonghae unit includes a destroyer, an anti-submarine helicopter, and three speed boats. It has a military force of 302.
Concern about the safety of tanker traffic through the Strait of Hormuz spiked last year after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker there in response to the seizure of an Iranian tanker by the Gibraltar authorities with the help of the British Navy. The tanker seizure exchange was resolved later in the year but with heightened tensions between Iran and the United States that featured threats from Tehran that it will close the Strait of Hormuz and cripple oil exports from the Middle East, concern ran high.
The U.S. and the UK were the most vocal proponents of a coalition to safeguard the passageway, but other countries remained reluctant about committing to such a coalition.
The UK, however, sent two Royal Navy vessels to guard British-flagged tankers in the strait. The two were first deployed last year after the tanker seizure and now returned to the chokepoint.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.