News / Africa

S. Korean Navy Frees Crew of Hijacked Chemical Tanker

South Koreans in Seoul watch TV news about South Korean navy military operation against Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean, 21 Jan 2011
South Koreans in Seoul watch TV news about South Korean navy military operation against Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean, 21 Jan 2011

South Korean naval special forces stormed a hijacked ship early Friday and rescued 21 sailors and killed a number of pirates in the Arabian Sea.

Five suspected kidnappers were captured.

President Lee Myung-bak went live on national television to announce the successful conclusion of the five-hour operation, 1,300 kilometers northeast of Somalia.

Mr. Lee told the country South Korea will not tolerate future attacks on any of its nationals.

The president says the military conducted the rescue operation perfectly under difficult circumstances. He says he appreciates the action of the forces and that it sends a message of encouragement.

The Norwegian-owned Samho Jewelry was heading to Sri Lanka from the United Arab Emirates when it was seized last Saturday, 650 kilometers southeast of the port of Muscat.

Mr. Lee added that other countries assisted with the raid but he did not elaborate. News reports say a navy ship from Oman was on the scene to support the South Korean operation.

On board the Malta-flagged chemical tanker was a crew of 11 Burmese, eight South Koreans and two Indonesians. It is operated by South Korea’s Samho Shipping.

Military officials in Seoul say a South Korean naval destroyer, the Choi Young, with 300 special forces aboard, tailed the hijacked ship for days before moving in early Friday.

Army Lieutenant General Lee Seong-ho, at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says at least eight of the kidnappers died while the skipper of the seized ship was shot in the stomach by the pirates. His injuries are not considered life-threatening.

General Lee says three of the rescuers suffered minor injuries as they came under fire from the kidnappers.

The general says the operation demonstrates South Korea’s strong will to never negotiate with pirates.

The government had vowed not endure a repeat of last year’s hijacking of an oil tanker also operated by Samho Shipping.

The Samho Dream and its crew were freed after 217 days, reportedly following a ransom payment of more than $9 million.

That prompted criticism here that the payment would encourage pirates to more aggressively target South Korean vessels.

A number of navies, from both developed and emerging nations, have intensified patrols in the pirate-infested waters surrounding Somalia. Most of the pirates are based in Somalia, which has not had a functioning government for the past 20 years.

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