South Korea's military said Friday that its special forces had rescued 21 crew members of a hijacked freighter in the Arabian Sea, killing eight Somali pirates in a rare and bold raid.
The operation overnight Thursday in waters between Oman and Africa — that also captured five pirates and left one crew member wounded — came a week after the Somali attackers seized the South Korean freighter and held hostage eight South Koreans, two Indonesians and 11 citizens from Burma (Myanmar).
"We will not tolerate any behavior that threatens the lives and safety of our people in the future," President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea said in a brief televised statement, adding that the rescue was a "perfect operation."
At least five nations have sent naval vessels to patrol waters off the Somali coast as the piracy threat has grown, according to Bloomberg. Pirates hijacked a record 53 ships and 1,181 crew members in 2010, most of them off Somalia, according to the London-based International Maritime Bureau.
The Horn of Africa nation has been without a functioning government since 1991, and remains one of the world's most violent and lawless countries.
About 4 percent of the world's daily oil supply is shipped through the Gulf of Aden.
South Korea said it received help from other countries, including the U.S., in the pre-dawn operation, which took place about 350 nautical miles southeast of the port of Muscat, Oman.
With a South Korean destroyer and a Lynx helicopter providing covering fire, South Korea's special navy forces stormed the hijacked vessel, the Maltese flagged and Norwegian owned Samho Jewelry, Lt. Gen. Lee Sung-ho told reporters, according to The Associated Press.
The captain of the ship was shot by a pirate and taken by a U.S. helicopter to a nearby country for treatment, but the wound is not life-threatening, Lt. Gen. Lee said. The 20 other crew members were rescued unharmed, he said.
In photos of the operation, a small boat loaded with South Korean forces can be seen alongside the Samho Jewelry, with commandos already aboard the ship appearing to haul others up.
The 11,500-ton Samho Jewelry, which was sailing from the United Arab Emirates to Sri Lanka when it was attacked, is the second vessel from South Korea-based Samho Shipping to be hijacked in the past several months.
Somali pirates in November freed the supertanker Samho Dream and its 24 crew following seven months of captivity.
Friday's successful raid is a triumph for Lee, whose government military has been seen as too slow and weak in its response to North Korean aggression in November against the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong near disputed waters.
Most companies settle the abductions by paying steep ransoms. Rescues are rare because of the risk to hostages, who are often kept below deck in safe rooms called citadels, vulnerable to be injured or killed by hijackers until their rescuers can reach them.
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