Five Somali pirates captured during a raid on a hijacked cargo ship in the Arabian Sea were brought yesterday to South Korea, where they could face up to life imprisonment, the South Korean coast guard said.
The men were arrested as South Korean commandos raided the South Korean-operated Samho Jewelry earlier this month, a week after pirates seized the freighter and its 21 crew members. The commandos rescued all crew members — eight South Koreans, two Indonesians and 11 Burmese — and killed eight Somali pirates.
None of the crew members was injured except for the South Korean captain, who was shot in the stomach by a pirate. The captain, Seok Hae-gyun, was brought to South Korea on Saturday night and had surgery for his wounds.
Yesterday, the five captured pirates arrived at Gimhae International Airport in Busan and were quickly put into detention there, coast guard officer Eum Jin-kyung said.
Coast guard investigators subsequently began questioning the Somalis on charges that they hijacked the ship, requested a ransom and attempted to kill the captain, coast guard officer Hahm Un-sik said. By South Korean law, the pirates — if convicted — could be sentenced to life in prison as a maximum penalty, Hahm said.
The suspects told investigators that the dead eight pirates played a key role in the hijacking and shot the captain, according to Yonhap news agency. The coast guard said it couldn’t immediately confirm the report.
The Samho Jewelry and the freed crew members are headed to Oman.
Senior coast guard officer Kim Chung-gyu told a news conference that investigators will be sent to look at the ship after it arrives.
Kim said that investigators will also try to find if the pirates belong to a group involved in the previous hijackings of South Korean ships.
In October last year, Somali pirates hijacked a South Korean--operated fishing boat with 43 sailors — two South Korean, two Chinese and 39 Kenyans, but they haven’t been released yet. A month later, a supertanker also owned by Samho Shipping and its 24 crew were freed after seven months amid reports that a ransom of up to US$9.5 million had been paid to Somali pirates.
Piracy off the coast of Somalia has flourished since the nation’s government collapsed in 1991.
The US, Germany and the Netherlands have tried other Somali pirate suspects, but efforts to involve Africa in trying piracy cases are faltering and captured pirates frequently are released.
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