Korea Should Step Up International Anti-Piracy Drive
The specter of Somali pirates is again haunting South Korea as they reportedly hijacked an oil tanker from the country in the Indian Ocean on Sunday. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the 300,000-ton Samho Dream carrying five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos was seized by Somalis at around 4:10 p.m. (KST). Regrettably, the bad news added gloom to the nation that has already been stricken with shock and grief at the sinking of a Navy patrol ship which split in half after a mysterious explosion on March 26.
The hijacking has nothing to do with one of the nation's worst naval disasters. However, just as one misfortune rides upon another's back, the piracy is another matter of concern for the government, whose top priority is to protect its people and their properties both at home and abroad.
The pirate attack marked the first of its kind since South Korea dispatched a 4,500-ton destroyer with 300 crewmembers to the Indian Ocean in April 2009 to protect the nation's commercial vessels from Somali pirates. The ``Cheonghae'' unit comprising of the warship, a Lynx antisubmarine helicopter and speed boats is still in operation near the Gulf of Aden. But it is hard to expect the unit to ensure the safety of all Korean vessels in the region.
Therefore, ships should take more caution in avoiding Somali bandits who keep defying international anti-piracy operations run by Korea, the United States, Britain, Germany, Russia and other countries. South Korean ships reported six cases of hijacking by Somali pirates until the deployment of the Cheonghae unit.
People can still vividly remember the nightmare of 25 crewmembers of the tuna fishing ship Dongwon that was seized in Somali waters off the African country in April 2006. The abductees were released after ransom payments following 117 days of captivity. In November 2007, two other fishing vessels, Mabuno No. 1 and No. 2, were also hijacked with their crew held for 174 days.
It is regrettable that Korean ships have continued to become targets for Somali pirates. On Sept. 10, 2008, they hijacked the 15,000-ton bulk carrier Bright Ruby with eight Koreans and 13 Myanmarese. Two months later, they also captured a Japanese freighter with five Koreans aboard near the Gulf of Aden off Somalia.
Needless to say, Somali pirates are notorious for extorting huge sums of ransom in return for the release of hostages and seized ships. Thus, it is necessary for Korea to step up international cooperation to crack down on the pirates and ensure the safe voyage of vessels in the Indian Ocean. A quarter of the nation's maritime cargo currently passes through the ocean, where there are heavily-traveled sea lanes for traffic between the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia.
No doubt protecting Korea's commercial interests on the high seas is as important as its national security and defense. If necessary, the country must expand its anti-piracy operations in collaboration with other participating nations. And the authorities are required to tackle a series of recent mishaps one by one to show its emergency management capabilities.