SEOUL, Jan. 21 (Xinhua) -- South Korea's defense ministry said Tuesday that the military will expand the operational area of an anti-piracy naval unit, deployed in the Gulf of Aden, to the Persian Gulf including the Strait of Hormuz.
The ministry said in a statement that in consideration of the current situation in the Middle East, the government decided to "temporarily" broaden the Cheonghae Unit's operational area in order to guarantee the safety of South Korean people and the freedom of navigation of South Korean ships.
The operational area of the unit, which has been on an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden since 2009, will be expanded to the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf.
With the broadened operational area, the route that the unit patrols will be lengthened from the current 1,130 km to about 4,000 km, according to the ministry.
The unit will conduct independent operations, not joining a U.S.-led coalition.
If necessary, the unit will cooperate with the U.S.-led International Maritime Security Construct (MSC), headquartered in Bahrain.
According to the ministry, about 25,000 South Koreans currently reside in the Middle East, and more than 70 percent of South Korean oil imports are transported through the Strait of Hormuz. South Korean ships sail through the strait some 900 times per year.
Before the decision, South Korea had consultations with both the United States and Iran through diplomatic channels, according to Yonhap news agency.
The Cheonghae Unit is composed of some 300 rotational troops on board the 4,400-ton destroyer.