South Korean Commandos Liberate Chemical Ship from Pirates

Public Domain US Navy image of the Republic of Korea ship King Sejong The Great.

Back on the 15th of January, the South Korean chemical carrier MV Samho Jewelry was hijacked by Somali pirates on the high seas while en route from the United Arab Emirates to Sri Lanka.

Yesterday, it was reported by the English-language edition of, and subsequently by the Associated Press and other sources, that on Friday South Korean commandos liberated the ship and freed all 21 crew members. Eight pirates were killed, and five captured. The captain of the vessel suffered a wound to his abdomen, but it was said to not be life-threatening.

The really interesting thing about this raid is not so much where it fits into the puzzle of Somali piracy, but how strongly the South Korean government has been to portray it as a demonstration. The Christian Science Monitor called this operation “a warning to North Korea in the headline of Donald Kirk’s article:

An exultant President Lee Myung-bak appeared across national television networks Friday praising the Navy commandos who rescued all 21 crew members of the South Korean-owned freighter while killing eight pirates and detaining three.

“Our military carried out the operation perfectly under difficult circumstances,” Mr. Lee said, adding: “We will not tolerate any behavior that threatens the lives and safety of our people in the future.”


As in many wars in previous centuries, the protection of shipping is a way for countries to flex their muscle and take postures of war, enforcing their will on the high sees as a way of saying “Don’t mess with me.”

Interestingly, of the 21 crew of the Samho Jewelry, only eight were from South Korea. Another 11 were from Myanmar (aka Burma), and 2 were from Indonesia.

Here’s more from the AP Article:

As dawn broke, South Korean commandos steered their boats to a hijacked freighter in the Arabian Sea. Under covering fire from a destroyer and a Lynx helicopter, they scrambled up ladders onto the ship, where Somali pirates were armed with assault rifles and anti-tank missiles.

The helicopter broadcast warnings in Korean that a rescue operation had begun and told the crew members to lay down on the floor.

Then the commandos started shooting as the pirates fired at them.

Five hours after Friday’s risky rescue began, it was over.

All 21 hostages were freed from the gunfire-scarred freighter. Eight pirates were killed and five were captured in what President Lee Myung-bak called a “perfect operation.”


The article also draws connection between South Korea’s military operation in the Indian Ocean and its threats at home from North Korea, just like the Christian Science Monitor — though not at such length.

The successful raid also was a triumph for South Korea’s president and military. Both came under harsh criticism at home for being too slow and weak in the response to a North Korean attack in November on a South Korean island near disputed waters that killed two marines and two civilians.

…”This operation demonstrated our government’s strong will to never negotiate with pirates,” Gen. Lee said.

The Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet said the U.S. Navy was aware of the rescue, but referred all other questions to South Korea.


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