South Korea mulls sending own ships to Strait of Hormuz

Around 70 percent of its oil imports pass through the waterway. (AFP)
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Updated 19 January 2020

South Korea mulls sending own ships to Strait of Hormuz

  • Seoul wants to avoid feud with Tehran over international maritime alliance

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.

Pakistan shuts schools, suspends Iran flights to curb coronavirus spread

Updated 27 February 2020

Pakistan shuts schools, suspends Iran flights to curb coronavirus spread

  • Latin America sees its first confirmed case of coronavirus in Brazil
  • Two countries in Europe - Estonia and Germany - have announced on Thursday their first cases of the virus

ISLAMABAD/RIO DE JANEIRO: Pakistan on Thursday shut schools in several areas and suspended flights to and from Iran to try to stop the spread of new coronavirus, after reporting its first cases of the infection, officials said.
The South Asian nation bordering China and Iran, both of which have been hit hard by the virus, reported its first two cases on Wednesday.
Both people had recently travelled to Iran as part of large groups of pilgrims from Pakistan’s Shi’ite Muslim community. Health officials have said both were “stable.”
In Britain, the number of coronavirus infections has risen to 15 cases. Elsewhere, two countries in Europe - Estonia and Germany - have announced on Thursday their first cases of the virus.
Latin America meanwhile saw its first confirmed case of the new coronavirus spreading worldwide when Brazil’s government announced that a 61-year-old man who traveled to Italy this month had the virus.
The Brazilian man had spent two weeks in northern Italy’s Lombardy region on a work trip, where he contracted the contagious virus, the Health Ministry said Wednesday.
“Our health care system has already undergone grave respiratory epidemics before,” Brazil’s Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said in a press conference. “We will get through this situation, investing in science, research and clear information.”
Since the COVID-19 virus began to spread throughout the world from China, Brazil and other countries in the region have registered dozens of suspected cases, all of which previously had been discarded following tests.
According to Brazil’s Health Ministry, the man began to show symptoms compatible with the illness, such as a dry cough, throat pain and flu symptoms. Lombardy is the center of the outbreak in Italy, and there have been hundreds of confirmed cases there as well as several deaths.
Sao Paulo’s Albert Einstein Institute, where the man received medical attention, carried out respiratory tests, and the Adolfo Lutz Institute in the same city carried out the subsequent test confirming the virus The man was in stable condition and in isolation at home in Sao Paulo.

Brazil’s national health agency Anvisa has been working to map all contact the man had with others, and on Tuesday requested the manifest of the flight he took to investigate other possible cases.
The Health Ministry said that the man received some 30 family members at his home after returning to Sao Paulo on Feb. 21. Those people are under observation, as are with passengers from the plane.

In Sydney, Australia’s prime minister said the country considered the new coronavirus to be a pandemic Thursday, going a step beyond the WHO as he extended a travel ban on visitors from China.

Announcing a national emergency response plan to the contagion, Scott Morrison said he was considering “additional measures” for monitoring travelers arriving in the country.

“We’re effectively operating now on the basis that there is one — a pandemic,” Morrison said. “We believe the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us.” Australia has reported 22 infections, but none that were contracted or passed from person-to-person inside the country.

Morrison’s warning comes as he scrambles to burnish his leadership credentials after fierce criticism of his handling of the months-long bushfire crisis. His government is also embroiled in a deepening political scandal over the funneling of taxpayer money into areas his coalition targeted in last year’s election.

Meanwhile, South Korea reported 171 more cases of the new virus on Thursday, bringing its total number of infections to 1,766.