Captain suffers setback as pneumonia feared

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Captain suffers setback as pneumonia feared

The injured captain of the Samho Jewelry was put back on a respirator Friday after showing signs of pneumonia just 18 hours after regaining consciousness, said Ajou University Hospital medical staff yesterday.

A hospital official said yesterday that Seok is unconscious and he needs to be hooked up to a respirator for a few more weeks. “The captain’s lung condition is gradually improving,” the official said. “His blood pressure, pulse and body temperature are being maintained and are in stable condition.”

Captain Seok Hae-gyun, 58, suffered serious gunshot wounds when the Korea Navy rescued the Samho Jewelry from Somali pirates, who hijacked his ship in mid-January. He underwent several surgeries in Oman and Korea to repair the wounds.

The Korea Coast Guard has been investigating five captured Somali pirates who have been brought to Korea on charges of attempted murder and hijacking the Korean freighter. They could face life in prison or the death penalty if found guilty.

According to hospital officials, Seok blinked and slowly opened his eyes on Thursday morning at the request of medical staff. He smiled when he saw a banner on the hospital wall that reads: “Captain Seok Hae-gyun, this is the Republic of Korea.”

Lee Guk-jong, the Ajou University Hospital doctor in charge of treating Seok, said that in order to test his brain function he asked Seok on Thursday night whether he remembered the November Yeonpyeong Island attack. Seok answered back: “South Korean marines did a great job.”

Lee said Seok will require more surgeries when his lungs recover.

Other rescued Korean crew members - who spent time with family members during Lunar New Year holiday - recounted the pirates’ attack.

Lee Ki-yong, who was on duty during the Jan. 15 attack, said he first spotted a small boat that was tailing behind the right rear side of the Samho Jewelry at 7:48 a.m. Then, a Somali pirate with an assault rifle climbed up one of the ship’s ladders and Lee pressed a fire alarm to notify other crew members of the emergency.

All 21 crew members managed to take cover in a room with water and food and locked the door, but they were subdued by the pirates three hours later after they broke into the room by destroying a hatch.

The crew members said they worked as a team to fool pirates.

“I passed around to crew members a book of ship terminology that was written with some secret orders by Captain Seok,” said Kim Du-chan, one of the sailors. “The messages included ‘mix water in engine oil’ and ‘break steering gear.’”

Said Choi Il-min, another sailor: I managed to temporarily halt the ship’s engine by mixing water, but the pirates found out and I was beaten severely.”


By Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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