S. Korea navy praised over pirate rescue

Seoul newspapers on Saturday heaped praise on South Korean navy commandos who battled pirates off the coast of Somalia to release captured crew.

“The Cheongha Unit salvages national pride,” declared the Dong-A Ilbo’s frontpage banner headline over a colour photo of SEAL special forces storming a South Korean freighter that had been taken by pirates in the Indian Ocean.

In a pre-dawn operation about 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) off northeast Somalia on Friday, the elite troops freed all the hostages, killing eight pirates and capturing five others in compartment-to-compartment battles.

There were no casualties other than the South Korean skipper of the Samho Jewelry, a chemical freighter, who suffered a gunshot wound to his stomach from a pirate’s bullet. His condition is not life-threatening.

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

South Korea has also come in for criticism after paying ransoms to secure the release of crew members from six vessels hijacked by Somali pirates, the Chosun Ilbo said. A seventh ship and its crew are still in pirates’ hands.

“The (South Korean) people have been irritated at this vicious circle of hostage takings and ransom… The special forces deserve great awards from the government,” Chosun said.