A heroic rescue for the ages

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A heroic rescue for the ages

Our Navy demonstrated its capabilities and courage last week when it conducted a daring rescue mission on a cargo ship that had been hijacked by Somali pirates.

President Lee Myung-bak addressed the nation on Friday soon after commandos rescued all 21 crew members of the Korean-owned ship Samho Jewelry, which was sailing toward Somalia. Pirates hijacked the ship six days earlier in the Arabian Sea while it was on its way to Sri Lanka.

“We will not tolerate any behavior that threatens the lives and safety of our people in the future,” the president said.

The stunning rescue mission, the first of its kind by Korea, sent a clear message to pirates and to the international community. It also sets a precedent in responding to similar situations in the pirate-infested waters in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.

When the supertanker Samho Dream — operated by Busan-based Samho Shipping Co., which also operates the Samho Jewelry — was hijacked last year by Somali pirates, Korea paid a record $9.5 million in ransom in exchange for the safe return of crew members.

But the country’s decision to confront the pirates head on has given Korea a new reputation and boosts international efforts to respond more aggressively to pirate attacks.

The rescue operation was risky. A day after the ship was captured, the 4,500-ton Navy destroyer Choi Young — part of the counter-piracy Cheonghae Naval Unit that operates in the Gulf of Aden — was dispatched to the area. The ship, with an elite Navy Seal unit on board, kept its distance until the Somali pirates were distracted by the opportunity to attack a Mongolian vessel. A Lynx helicopter flew over and attacked a group of pirates who left the Samho Jewelry to hijack the other vessel. Navy Seals exchanged fire with the armed pirates who remained on the Samho Jewelry.

Commandos then raided the ship at dawn and rescued all crew members, including two Indonesians and 11 Burmese. Eight pirates were killed and five captured.

This is a great example of how to effectively deal with piracy once it occurs. But it’s even more important to take precautions and prevent hijackings from occurring in the first place.

All commerce ships sailing through these dangerous waters should reinforce their safety and emergency precautions, and the government must enhance its international networking efforts to secure information on pirate activities.

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