Preventing piracy is the keyThe Korean Navy deserves accolades for its bravery and tenacity in rescuing crew members of the Samho Jewelry, a chemical freighter hijacked by Somali pirates in the Arabian Sea. The triumphant and dramatic raid helped secure the safe return of all 21 hostages and dealt a blow to the pirate network in the region. The last time a Korean ship was hijacked, our government shelled out a record ransom for the release of the vessel and crew.
Despite Korea’s success in taking a more aggressive stance, there’s no guarantee we will be able to defeat Somali pirates in the future. Instead of focusing on how to attack pirates once they take over ships, we should instead reinforce our anti-piracy forces unit, called Cheonghae.
Japan, China and Russia have made commitments to the international counter-piracy campaign, as each have more than two warships present in the area. Korea has one 4,500-ton destroyer in the area called the Choi Young. The recent successful operation involving the Samho Jewelry is a testament to the combat skills and judgment of a seasoned Navy Seals team. But we also benefitted from good luck.
We cannot expect to be lucky all the time. We must now seriously consider increasing the capabilities of the Cheonhae unit. The military should consider accelerating the plan to add a 2,300-ton escort frigate and a 1,200-ton combat patrol ship to Korea’s forces in the Gulf of Aden in 2014 and also consider sending one of the Navy’s six destroyers to the area.
Perhaps more importantly, shipping companies should enhance efforts to protect themselves from attacks by pirates. They should build safe rooms with sufficient food and water as well as a communications network on their ships, so that crew members can hide out for a while and await rescue. The National Assembly should fully cooperate when the government submits a bill to enforce shipping companies passing the pirate danger zone to have secure shelters and security guards on board.
Last year, a total of 446 commercial ships were attacked by pirates around the globe, up 9.8 percent from a year earlier. A total of 66 ships were hijacked, with 62 of these incidents occurring near the coast of Somalia. Eight hijackings involved Koreans or ships owned by companies here.
Piracy is flourishing as a global business. It must be dealt with more strongly through international organizations such as the United Nations. But we must come up with our own protective measures in the meantime.