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Pirate admits carrying gun

Police to announce probe results today

A Somali pirate, suspected of shooting the captain of a Korean freighter during a naval rescue operation last month, has admitted that he was carrying a firearm while holding him hostage, in a reversal of his earlier position, according to maritime police in Busan.

Arai Mahomed, one of the five pirates captured during the naval commando raid in the Indian Ocean on Jan. 21, had claimed that he did not “touch” a gun.

Two of the rescued Korean crewmembers of the Samho Jewelry have told investigators they saw Mahomed shoot the captain. The other four pirates also pegged him as the culprit. Using their accounts, the investigators have pressured Mahomed to admit to the shooting.

Seok Hae-kyun, the 58-year-old captain, is currently being treated for multiple gunshot wounds in a hospital south of Seoul.

“There have been some changes in his attitude after we told him that according to the Korean penal code, his sentence could be lighter should he admit to his charges, and that Seok’s condition is improving,” said an investigator.

“The accounts of the four pirates excluding Arai almost coincided with one another. With their accounts, we are trying to thoroughly question Arai to confirm his charges.”

Apparently apprehensive about getting a heavy sentence, 23-year-old Mahomed still denies his charges. However, investigators are confident that they can prove the charges.

“Because this was the first piracy case involving foreigners and we had to go through a three-phase interpretation process during the investigation, we had focused on clearly verifying their basic charges,” said an investigator.

“Although Arai denies his charges, only with ‘circumstantial evidence’ we have secured so far, we can certainly corroborate his charges.”

Since their arrival in the southern port city on Jan. 30, the Korea Coast Guard has investigated the five pirates aged 19 to 25 on charges of maritime robbery and attempted murder.

The investigators are expected to hold a press briefing Monday to announce the results of their nine-day investigation. They will hand over the case to the prosecution Tuesday, according to officials.

Investigators, who have virtually wrapped up their probe, said that they have secured “enough material” to prove the major charges facing the pirates.

“We have secured physical evidence needed to corroborate their charges such as maritime robbery, attempted murder, hijacking the ship and obstruction of official duties.”

The pirates captured the 11,500-ton Samho Jewelry chemical carrier ― carrying eight Koreans, two Indonesians and 11 Myanmarese ― on Jan. 15 in the Arabian Sea.

Six days after the seizure, Korean naval commandos raided the hijacked ship, killing eight pirates and capturing five. All crewmembers were rescued. However, the captain of the freighter suffered multiple gunshot wounds.

The entire nation has been paying close attention to the condition of Seok, who played a crucial role in helping make the rescue operation a success. Seok received surgery for the gunshot wounds twice in Oman and once in Korea.

Seok, who is now being treated in an intensive care unit at Ajou University Hospital in Suwon, briefly regained consciousness last Thursday. The medical staff then removed a respirator and a breathing tube installed in his bronchus.

However, 18 hours after he opened his eyes, Seok complained of breathing difficulties and was put back on the respirator. His medical team said that the worsening of his condition resulted from pain from bone fractures, the deterioration of pulmonary edema ― fluid accumulation in the lungs ― and minor pneumonia symptoms.

“Such conditions can appear quite often in patients who suffered serious external wounds. We believe his condition will not deteriorate any further,” a doctor in charge of Seok said.

Seok is now being treated while sleeping ― a measure to minimize his physical and psychological pain caused by his wounds and medical procedures.

His medical team has decided to delay the orthopedic surgery scheduled for this week by two to three weeks, saying that it will determine the date for another round of surgery later when his condition is more stable.

By Song Sang-ho (