South Korea wants to try Somali pirates

January 25, 2011 12:00 am

, SEOUL, Jan 25 – Five Somali pirates captured during a dramatic raid by South Korean navy commandos on a hijacked ship last week should face trial in South Korea, Seoul\’s foreign minister said Tuesday.

"As a sovereign country, our government has an undoubted right to punish those who attacked our people," Kim Sung-Hwan told a press conference.

Kim also rejected criticism of last Friday\’s raid on the Samho Jewelry, a 11,500-ton freighter hijacked on January 15 in the Arabian Sea.

Eight pirates were killed and five seized while 21 crew members were rescued. All crew were unhurt apart from the skipper, who was hit by three shots from pirates and is in hospital in Oman.

Despite successful raids last week by both the South Korean and Malaysian navies, the European Union Naval Force off the Horn of Africa said it would not follow suit because such raids could further endanger hostages.

"I reject any criticism against a military operation which was aimed to rescue our people from those who threatened their lives," Kim said in answer to a question.

Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin said Monday that the captured pirates should be tried in South Korea.

But he also told lawmakers he would consult with other ministries about the possibility of swapping them for the crew of another South Korean ship, the Geummi 305.

The trawler with two South Koreans, two Chinese and 39 Kenyans aboard was hijacked on October 9 in the Indian Ocean.

Defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok Tuesday ruled out a possible swap, saying that "it\’s not appropriate to make use of those who committed a crime".

Officials said a final decision on the captured pirates would be made as early as Thursday when the freed ship, escorted by a South Korean destroyer, arrives in the Omani port of Muscat.

The rescue was seen as a major morale boost for the South\’s military, which faced strong domestic criticism for a perceived weak response to North Korea\’s shelling of a border island in November.

It also sparked new calls for the release of the Geummi 305. Ransom negotiations remain stalled because the trawler\’s owners went bankrupt.

Foreign minister Kim said the government would do its best for the release of the trawler but repeated Seoul\’s official stance that there would be no direct negotiations with pirates.

Piracy has surged in recent years off Somalia, a lawless, war-torn country that sits astride one of the world\’s most important shipping routes, leading to the Suez Canal.

Dozens of ships have been hijacked and held for ransom. Since 2006 three South Korean vessels have been seized and released after ransoms were paid.


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