Eight EU nations back naval force to patrol Strait of Hormuz



People sit along the coast line overlooking the Strait of Hormuz off Oman in this file photo from March 13th, 2012. [Karim Sahib/AFP]

The French foreign ministry said Monday (January 20th) that eight European Union nations had given their support for a new naval patrol to help avoid potential conflicts in the Strait of Hormuz.

Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal backed the new force, though the ministry did not say how many ships would be involved, or when they would begin operations.

The move comes amid escalating tensions in the region, especially between Iran and the US, that have sparked attacks on tankers and other conflicts at the entry to the Gulf, a crucial zone for oil shipping.

"For months this situation has jeopardised freedom of navigation and the security of both European and foreign ships and crews," the ministry said in a statement.

France, Denmark, Greece and the Netherlands have already confirmed they will contribute to the patrols, which will be based in the UAE, and "new commitments" are expected in the coming days, the ministry said.

The US launched its own operation alongside allies last November to protect shipping in Gulf waters.

The US-led naval coalition includes Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as Australia, Britain and Albania.

South Korea's defence ministry on Tuesday announced it will send a naval destroyer and 300 troops to the Strait of Hormuz.

The ministry said Seoul had decided to "temporarily expand" the deployment area of its anti-piracy military unit operating off the coast of Somalia to include the Arab Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, which are linked by the Strait of Hormuz.

It would not be part of the US naval mission, it said, although two liaison officers would be sent to the US headquarters for "information sharing".

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