Investigators have corroborated charges that a Somali pirate shot the captain of a seized Korean freighter using ballistics evidence, maritime police in Busan said Monday.
The evidence includes a bullet removerd from the injured captain and bullet traces on the ship’s wheel house.
In addition, the rescued Korean crewmembers of the Samho Jewelry told police that they saw Arai Mahomed shoot the captain with his rifle. Two other captured pirates also stated that the 23-year-old was with the captain at the time of the shooting.
The Korea Coast Guard in Busan presented the results of its probe into the five pirates captured in the Indian Ocean on Jan. 21 during the five-hour naval rescue operation that also killed eight pirates.
It has investigated the pirates ― aged 19 to 25 ― on charges of maritime robbery, ship hijacking, attempted murder and obstruction of official duties since the pirates arrived in the southern port city on Jan. 30.
Investigators found that one of the four bullets recovered from the captain was apparently shot by Korean naval commandos during the operation.
Seok Hae-kyun, the 58-year-old captain, is currently being treated for the multiple gunshot wounds in an intensive care unit at Ajou University Hospital in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province. He has received surgery twice in Oman and once in Korea.
“Of the four bullets retrieved from Seok, we have received three. One of them is presumed to be a bullet of the pistol Korean naval troops use or that of MP5 9mm submachine gun,” Kim Chung-gyu, a senior police officer in charge of the case, told the press conference, stressing that the results were not based on the scientific examination.
“It is not the result of the exact examination by the National Forensic Service. The result is only based on examination with our eyes. The NFS results will come out next week.”
The medical staff lost one of the four bullets in Oman, Kim added.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff said that Seok had already collapsed on the floor from the gunshot wounds before the commandos approached him, suggesting the possibility that the captain might have been struck by a stray bullet during the firefight.
Investigators also said that one of the eight Korean crewmembers stated that Abdi Risqe Shakh, the 28-year-old leader of the pirate gang who was shot dead, boasted that he had hijacked a total of seven vessels including the Samho Jewelry.
Investigators made no progress in their inquiry over who was behind the 13-member piracy gang from Somalia’s northern Puntland region and whether the captured were connected to the pirates that had seized other Korean vessels in the past ― including the Geummi 305 fishing vessel.
They said that they failed to ascertain the pirates’ connection to the past hijacking cases as their leaders were killed and they persistently claimed that they did not know of the cases.
The Geummi 305, with 43 crewmembers including two Koreans on board, was hijacked on Oct. 9 off the Kenyan coast and is still being held by Somali pirates.
Pointing out that the pirates seized the Samho Jewelry 23 days after they set sail from a Somali port, the police claimed that the pirates did not deliberately target the Korean freighter.
“Given various circumstances, although we had difficulties due to the death of the pirate leaders, the possibility of them deliberately targeting the Samho Jewelry and hijacking it is low,” said Kim.
Investigators also found that the pirates attempted to seize the 11,500-ton chemical carrier and its cargo, which were worth 57 billion won ($51.4 million).
The police also found that the gang of pirates was formed in December and practiced their hijacking skills for 15 days before seizing the Korean freighter.
Investigators also said that while holding crewmembers hostage, the pirates demanded that the captain steer the ship toward their Somali stronghold and that the Korean owner of the ship offer a ransom to release the crewmembers.
The police will hand over the pirates and their case to the prosecution on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, legal experts said that should their charges of maritime robbery and attempted murder be confirmed, the pirates could face the maximum sentences of the death penalty or life imprisonment.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com