High-seas piracySouth Korean navy recaptures pirated tanker

Published 21 January 2011

South Korean special forces team boards a pirate-held tanker in the Arabian Sea; pirates were killed, injured or captured; 21 sailors rescued after being held since last Saturday; three rescuers sustain minor injuries

For the past few days, the South Korean destroyer Choi Young tailed a pirated tanker, the Norwegian-owned, South Korean-operated Samho Jewelry.

The chemical tanker had departed the United Arab Emirates, enroute to Sri Lanka, when it was siezed by Somali pirates last Saturday, about 650 kilometers off the coast of Oman, in the Arabian Sea.

Early Friday morning, the Choi Young began its rescue operation. Carrying a complement of 300 special forces operators, the South Korean team began a five hour operation, culminating in the recapture of the Samho Jewelry, the killing of eight pirates, and the capture of five others.

The rescuers sustained three minor injuries while taking fire from the pirates during the mission, which took place some 1300 kilometers northeast of Somalia.

The effort recaptured the Malta-flagged tanker and freed the crew of 11 Burmese, eight South Korean and two Indonesian sailors. The tanker’s captain received a gunshot wound to the stomach that has been described as non-life-threatening.

South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak announced the rescue in a live television broadcast this morning, telling his nation that its military performed the mission perfectly under difficult circumstances, adding that it sends a message of encouragement.

This operation demonstrated our government’s strong will that we won’t tolerate illegal activities by pirates any more,” said Lt. Gen. Lee Seong-ho, head of combat operations for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). 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.