Thursday, 27 January 2011

South Korean commandos storm hijacked ship, free crew.

Captain shot in stomach by pirates.

South Korean commandos have stormed the chemical tanker ‘Samho Jewelry’' and freed all the crew, President Lee Myung-bak has announced. "Our soldiers rescued all of twenty-one crew aboard Samho Jewelry, including eight Koreans, who were hijacked by Somalia pirates," President Lee told reporters. The South Korean navy says that five pirates were captured and eight killed in the dawn rescue raid. Reports say that all the crew were rescued alive, although the South Korean captain of the ship suffered a non-critical gunshot wound to his stomach during the attack. Three Korean commandoes were slightly injured in the raid; other pirates are reported missing, though their bodies have not been found, Korean authorities added.

The rescue took place about 800 miles off the coast of Somalia. The loaded 11,500 tonne Samho Jewelry was taken last weekend from the Arabian Sea en route to Sri Lanka from the United Arab Emirates with a crew of eight Koreans, eleven Burmese and two Indonesians. She was then tracked sailing towards Somalia. There were questions at the time whether South Korean ships were being especially targeted by pirates, given that the Samho Dream- with the same owners- had been released last November after the biggest ransom on record, some 9.5 million dollars, was dropped aboard the vessel.

In any event, Seoul ordered the Choi Young destroyer to be diverted from the Gulf of Aden to shadow the Jewelry after she was taken last Saturday, and President Lee ordered "all possible measures" to save the crew. South Korea is part of a multinational anti-piracy patrol in the region. Commandos chased the hijacked ship for days, and started a rescue mission before dawn today; the raid went on for five hours.

Media reports say that pirates were leaving to hijack another vessel in the vicinity when the naval destroyer approached her. Col Lee Bung-woo of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters, "Three of our soldiers suffered light scratches on their bodies as they were fired upon by pirates. Our Lynx helicopter immediately returned fire and several pirates fell into the waters”. He confirmed that pirates had shot the captain of the ship in the stomach, but his condition was not life threatening.

South Korean President Lee said on television, "We will not tolerate any behaviour that threatens the lives and safety of our people in the future."

The London-based International Maritime Bureau says that there have already been 22 incidents reported off the coast of Somalia this year, including four hijackings.

Thirty-one vessels are being held presently by pirates in Somalia. One hopes that there are no South Koreans aboard any of them.

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