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Rescued captain remains unconscious

The captain of a rescued South Korean freight vessel is expected to spend the Lunar New Year holidays lying unconscious in a hospital bed, as his medical team said Tuesday he remains in a critical condition.

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.

All crewmen were rescued alive in the hours-long rescue operation, but the captain, one of the eight South Koreans on board, was shot by the pirates and seriously wounded. 
Lee Guk-jong (left) and other medical staff take care of Seok Hae-kyun, the wounded captain of a rescued South Korean freighter, at Ajou University Hospital in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, Tuesday. (Ajou University Hospital)
Lee Guk-jong (left) and other medical staff take care of Seok Hae-kyun, the wounded captain of a rescued South Korean freighter, at Ajou University Hospital in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, Tuesday. (Ajou University Hospital)

The 58-year-old captain, Seok Hae-kyun, returned to South Korea over the weekend and went through successful surgery, but remains unconscious, according to the hospital.

“I am sorry to say we are not seeing big improvement in Captain Seok’s condition from the day before,” said Lee Guk-jong, in charge of Seok’s medical team. “Blood poisoning and slow blood clotting due to large bullet wounds are slowing down his recovery.”

Six bullet wounds were found on the captain’s stomach, legs and arms when he arrived at the South Korean hospital over the weekend, doctors say.

Five Somali pirates, one of whom is suspected of shooting at the captain, are currently being investigated by the South Korean police and are expected to receive either the death penalty or imprisonment for life. The South Korean Navy killed eight other pirates who were on board during the rescue operation.

The captured pirates, currently being investigated in Busan, have admitted charges of hijacking the ship and keeping the crewmen detained, but deny shooting the captain.

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.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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