President urges all-out efforts to rescue hijacked ship
By Lee Tae-hoon
President Lee Myung-bak Sunday called on security officials to take all possible measures to rescue sailors of a South Korean-operated cargo ship, which was seized by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean Saturday.
“Upon returning for a provincial trip, President Lee instructed officials of the Office of Crisis Management to make all-out efforts to resolve the hijacking case,” Hong Sang-pyo, senior presidential secretary for public relations, said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFAT) said it immediately set up a task force at the ministry and the Korean embassy in Kenya to handle the matter.
It, however, ruled out the possibility of paying ransom or negotiating with hostage takers.
MOFAT said the 11,500-ton chemical tanker was heading to Sri Lanka from the United Arab Emirates and was seized in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean some 2,000 kilometers away from the South Korean Navy's Cheonghae anti-piracy unit.
In 2009, the government deployed the 300-strong Cheonghae unit, the sixth of its kind, in an effort to join multinational anti-piracy operations off the Somalia coast, which has seen a sharp rise in pirate attacks.
Officials from MOFAT said Cheonghae unit’s 4,500-ton destroyer Choi Young began to move toward the hijacked freighter, but it would take at least two days to reach it.
They also confirmed the safety of all crew members of the freighter.
"We have found the current location of the freighter and all of the 21 crew members are unharmed," a ministry official said, without elaborating how much money the pirates were demanding.
MOFAT says the 21 crew members comprise of eight Koreans, two Indonesians, and 11 from Myanmar.
The hijacked vessel, named Samho Jewelry, belongs to Samho Shipping, the same company that suffered a major setback after its 300,000-ton tanker and its 24 crew were hijacked by Somali pirates last year.
It has been only two months since Somalia pirates released the crew of the oil tanker after holding them hostage for 217 days in return for a record ransom of more than over $9 million.
Samho Shipping closed its office in the southern port city of Busan over the weekend, refraining from commenting on the latest incident.
A multinational fleet, comprising of the Choi Young KDX-II destroyer, and other vessels from the U.S., NATO member states, Russia and India, has been patrolling the Indian Ocean waters to clamp down on piracy.
A total of 29 vessels and 693 hostages are known to be being held captive by pirates off the coast of Somalia.