Monday, April 5, 2010

South Korean tanker taken over by Somali pirates

We get word today that on Easter Sunday, Somali pirates grabbed control of a South Korea-owned oil tanker from its twenty-four-man crew. Nothing has been heard since, and there is no word on the safety or status of the five South Koreans and nineteen Filipinos.

From the AP link above:
The [ROK Foreign Ministry] says the hijacking is thought to have occurred Sunday about 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) southeast of the Gulf of Aden.

A ministry official says a South Korean navy ship operating in the Gulf of Aden received a call from the tanker saying three Somali pirates had boarded the vessel. The official says there was no subsequent contact.

The ministry says five crew members are South Korean and 19 are Filipino. It says the 300,000-ton-class tanker was sailing from Iraq to the U.S. state of Louisiana.
The story is also carried by Reuters, Voice of America, CNN, UPI, and the Joongang Daily.

The pirate attacks continue, despite stepped-up naval patrols by the US and other countries, including South Korea, and an increasingly armed presence onboard the targeted ships themselves (late last month, private guards aboard a ship killed a Somali pirate, a first).

In fact just last week, nine North Koreans were injured in a vicious attack:
Heavily armed Somali pirates shot and wounded nine seafarers during a bloody attempt to hijack a North Korean cargo ship off Kenya on Wednesday, a maritime watchdog said.

"There was a very violent attack against a North Korean vessel by Somali pirates who used automatic rifles and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades)," Pottengal Mukundan, director of the London based International Maritime Bureau (IMB) told AFP.

"Nine crew members have been seriously injured as a result of the attack," he added.
That these attacks continue is a no-brainer because of two factors: first, the utter lawlessness of Somalia and second, the pirates are well compensated. The recent successful hijacking of a North Korean chemical tanker with a crew of twenty-eight yielded a $3.5 million ransom for the pirates, and last year they "earned" a total of $60 million in ransoms.

Piracy pays.

South Korea has in the past tried to withhold payment from the pirates, with one crew being held by their Somali captors for 174 grueling days. But if you think South Koreans and ransom, the stand-out image is the 2007 Taliban kidnapping of a group of South Korean missionaries in Afghanistan, two of which were killed, and the supersized helpings of ridicule doled out to the Roh Moohyun government.

Seoul always denied a payoff, even though (if that's really what happened) South Korea was by no means the only country seeking payoffs or deals to save its citizens. In fact, an agreement by the Afghan government to release Taliban prisoners in exchange for the the release of Swiss-Italian reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo may have primed the Taliban for the capture of the South Korean missionaries two months later.

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