With Tensions Rising on Strait of Hormuz, S. Korea Rethinks Patrols

South Korean destroyer (file image)

Published Jan 6, 2020 10:15 PM by The Maritime Executive

After the killing of top Iranian military leader Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani by U.S. forces last week, South Korea's government may reconsider its plans to deploy a warship for the U.S.-led "Operation Sentinel" maritime security coalition guarding the Strait of Hormuz. 

"The worsening conflict between the U.S. and Iran obviously complicates the calculations for the South Korean government. The discussion of deployment hasn’t advanced any further. We’re keeping a close eye on the situation,” a South Korean government official told Korean outlet Hankyoreh. 

Formally, Operation Sentinel's members include Australia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the UK and Albania, with leadership and headquarters coordination provided by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. Last July, South Korea committed to contribute one destroyer from an anti-piracy operation off Somalia. 

Japan has considered parallel (but not officially affiliated) naval patrols for nearby areas. 

Operation Sentinel stood up last year after a series of mine attacks on international shipping, attacks on Saudi oil facilities, the downing of a U.S. drone and the seizure of a British merchant vessel, all attributed to Iran. The partnership's mandate is to "deter malign activity, promote maritime security and stability, and ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce" in the waters of the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb and the Gulf of Oman. 

To carry out the coalition's mission, large naval vessels like frigates and destroyers (designated "Sentinels") watch over critical choke points, while smaller patrol craft and corvettes ("Sentries") patrol the transit lanes in between. In addition, airborne surveillance assets monitor the flow of traffic through the highest risk areas.