Korean crew of rescued freighter to return home
Seven South Korean crewmembers of a freight vessel recently rescued from Somali pirates are expected to return home this week following Oman’s approval of the ship to dock in the country, a Seoul official said Monday.
South Korea’s 11,500-ton chemical freighter Samho Jewelry and its 21 crew members were rescued on Jan. 21 by the Navy days after it was seized in waters between Oman and India.
With the Omani government’s approval, “Samho Jewelry has arrived at the port of Muscat and the crewmen are expected to return home on Wednesday after a brief medical checkup,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim Young-sun said.
Other crew members ― two from Indonesia and 11 from Myanmar ― are expected to decide whether to return to their country after arriving at the port, according to the ministry.
The cargo ship had been staying in Omani waters, waiting for approval to enter the port.
All crewmen were rescued alive in the hours-long rescue operation, although the captain, one of the eight South Koreans on board, was shot by the pirates and seriously wounded. The 58-year-old captain, Seok Hae-kyun, returned to South Korea for surgery over the weekend and remains unconscious, according to the hospital.
The South Korean Navy killed eight pirates and captured five, who have been brought here for criminal trial and punishment. The Somali government has agreed to take the bodies of the eight dead pirates, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.
“The two governments will begin discussions on how to pass over the bodies,” ministry spokesman Kim said.
The captured pirates, currently being investigated in Busan, have admitted charges of hijacking the ship and keeping the crewmen detained, but deny having shot the injured captain, police said.
One of the pirates, Arai Mahomed, briefly confessed he shot Seok during the rescue operation, but changed his statement soon afterward, they said.
In a written statement, one of the freighter crew had pinpointed Mahomed as the one who shot the captain.
“We have evidence to prove one of the five pirates shot Captain Seok,” chief investigator Kim Chung-gyu said.
Once the attack against Seok is proved by the police, the captured pirates will likely receive death penalty or imprisonment for life, legal experts say.
Investigators are also looking into whether the Somali pirates had picked Samho Jewelry as the target after a supertanker belonging to the same shipping firm was released November last year after a hefty ransom was paid. The pirates have said they plotted the crime at least half a month before carrying it out, police said.
The 319,360-ton Samho Dream, owned by South Korea’s Samho Shipping Co., was released in November after paying at least $9.5 million in ransom. Samho representatives admitted to having paid a large amount of money to ensure the safe return of its employees, but did not elaborate on the exact amount.
The ship, carrying five Koreans and 19 Filipinos, was held captive for 217 days.
Some critics said the hijacking case left a bad precedent for foreign countries as well as Korea by accepting the pirates’ high ransom demand. The South Korean government does not take direct part in negotiating with pirates, keeping to the international principle not to bargain over a hijacked vessel.
By Shin Hae-in (email@example.com