Destroyer catches up with hijacked tanker

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Destroyer catches up with hijacked tanker

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A Korean naval destroyer has caught up with a Korean supertanker hijacked by Somali pirates, the Foreign Ministry here announced yesterday.

According to the ministry, the destroyer Yi Sun-sin, named after the admiral from the Joseon Dynasty, reached waters near the 300,000-ton tanker Samho Dream around 1:20 a.m. yesterday, Korean time. A ministry official said the supertanker was headed toward Somali waters but declined to offer further details, citing security and safety concerns.

The tanker, which was carrying $160 million of crude oil from Iraq to Louisiana in the United States, was seized around 4:10 p.m. Sunday, Korean time, in the Indian Ocean. Its 24-person crew is made up of five Koreans and 19 Filipinos.

In a distress call to the Korean Navy, the Samho Dream reported that three pirates had boarded the ship.

According to the ministry, the hijacking took place about 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) southeast of the Gulf of Aden, where the Korean Navy is currently operating an anti-piracy unit called Cheonghae. The Yi Sun-sin is part of that unit.

Samho Shipping Company, the Busan-based operator of the seized vessel, said it had not begun negotiations with the pirates for the release of the ship and its crew.

Somali pirates have seized other oil tankers and have earned ransoms as high as $5.5 million. According to Foreign Ministry data, 26 commercial and private vessels and about 400 people are currently detained by pirates in the Somali waters.

A maritime analyst in Britain told the Associated Press that the Korean warship was unlikely to launch an attack on the pirates holding the Samho Dream because it would only place the crew at greater risk.

“The reason why an assault is extremely hazardous is you have to be able to suppress the pirates and take control back as fast as possible,” Graeme Gibbon Brooks of Dryad Maritime Intelligence was quoted as saying. “If you don’t take control fast, there is a greater risk to the crew.”

According to Agence France-Presse, Somali pirates took an estimated $60 million in ransoms last year. Ships carrying Korean sailors near Somali waters have been victims in the past, too.

In April 2006, a Korean tuna ship with 25 crew members, including eight Koreans, was hijacked. They were released after four months and the payment of on an unspecified ransom.

In May 2007, Somali pirates seized two Korean boats with 24 crew members, four of them Koreans, and released them almost six months later after payment of a ransom.

A year later, a Korean vessel with eight Koreans was hijacked and was released about a month later.


By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]

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