Sailors in line salute alongside the 4,500-ton Munmu the Great destroyer to be dispatched to combat piracy in the waters off Somalia during a ceremony marking the inauguration of the “Cheonghae” unit for that mission, Tuesday. / Korea Times
By Jung Sung-ki
A South Korean naval unit for anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia was inaugurated Tuesday after a motion for deployment was approved by the National Assembly a day earlier, the Navy announced.
After days of operational training in the waters off Busan, the unit, named ``Cheonghae,'' will be dispatched to the troubled waters as early as mid-March, the service said in a news release.
The unit's name comes from ``Cheonghae-jin,'' a naval base established by famed Korean General Jang Bogo of the ancient Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.-668) that became a major trading hub, it said. Jang pushed for building a military complex to protect Silla's merchant fleets and coastal residents from pirates.
``The inauguration of the Cheonghae unit this year, which marks the 100th anniversary of the Navy's founder, the late Adm. Sohn Won-il, will serve as a starting point for our Navy to make history and build a naval power to sustain us over the next 100 years,'' Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jung Ok-keun said in a speech at a ceremony at Naval Operations Command, in Busan.
The planned dispatch of a warship to the Somali waters will mark the first-ever overseas combat deployment of the South Korean Navy, which is confident in its counter piracy operations, based on close-range combat skills accrued from decades-long training exercises to deter North Korean ships.
The unit consists of a 4,500-ton KDX-II destroyer commanded by Cmdr. Jang Sung-woo, a Lynx anti-submarine helicopter and 300 personnel, including 30 UDT/SEAL special naval forces, according to the release.
UDT refers to the Underwater Demolition Teams, while SEAL stands for the Sea, Air and Land forces employed in special reconnaissance, unconventional warfare and counter-terrorism operations.
The KDX-II destroyer is equipped with an Mk. 45 127mm gun, Harpoon ship-to-surface missiles, RAM Mk 31 ship-to-air guided missiles, a 30mm Goalkeeper system for engaging sea-skimming anti-ship missiles and torpedoes.
The Korean contingent will focus on escorting South Korean commercial ships in efforts to protect the nation's economic interests, but will also conduct operations to monitor, inspect, stop and seize pirates vessels, using force if required, in cooperation with the multinational Combined Task Force-150 of the Combined Forces Maritime Component Command based in Bahrain.
Countries presently contributing to CTF-150 include the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany and Pakistan, alongside ships from Russia, India and China.
The task force is responsible for maritime security from the Red Sea down the east coast of Africa and into the Arabian Sea toward Pakistan and India.