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(4th LD) Five Somali pirates arrested in S. Korean ship hijacking

All Headlines 17:01 January 30, 2011

(ATTN: ADDS handling of dead pirates' bodies in last 4 paras; CHANGES photos)

SEOUL/BUSAN, Jan. 30 (Yonhap) -- Five Somali pirates, captured during a recent rescue operation on a South Korean freighter, were arrested Sunday on charges of hijacking the ship and shooting its captain, marking the first such litigation case in the country.

The pirates are accused of hijacking the 11,500-ton Samho Jewelry in the Arabian Sea on Jan. 15 and firing at the ship's captain during a rescue operation by South Korean Navy commandos on Jan. 21. The 58-year-old captain, Seok Hae-kyun, was seriously wounded and is currently receiving treatment at a hospital south of Seoul.

The pirates are also accused of firing at South Korean commandos during their first attempt to salvage the hijacked vessel on Jan. 18. Three commandos were wounded in the operation.

The ship's other 20 crew members were rescued unscathed, while the remaining eight Somali pirates were killed.

The Busan District Court issued arrest warrants for the five pirates on charges of maritime robbery and attempted murder on Sunday morning after questioning them for one-and-a-half hours in Somalian, English and Korean. They are the first pirates operating outside of South Korean waters to be brought to the country to face charges of hijacking a South Korean ship.

"The reasons for requesting the arrest warrants have been explained, and there is a risk of flight," said Judge Kim Ju-ho, who issued the warrants.

Under South Korean law, the pirates could be sentenced to at least five years in prison for hijacking the ship and life imprisonment or even death for firing at the captain from a close distance.

The five captive pirates were taken to the court immediately after arriving in Busan at 4:18 a.m. Sunday on a royal jet belonging to the United Arab Emirates. They have so far denied almost all the allegations during questioning, court officials said.

One pirate was quoted as saying that he "boarded the Samho Jewelry after the others hijacked it" and that he had "nothing to do with the hijacking."

Another pirate blamed his employer, saying he got on the ship because he was told there would be work and subsequently got caught up in the incident.

Officials also said the pirates were blaming their dead colleagues for shooting the captain.

The pirates, whose ages range between 19 and 25, entered the court dressed in the winter clothes of the Samho Jewelry's crew members and wearing sneakers provided by South Korea's Coast Guard.

The names of the five, all Somali nationals, are Serum Abdullah, Ali Abdullah, Ali Abukad-Aeman, Brallat Aul and Arai Mahomed.

A special investigation team has been set up at the regional headquarters of the Coast Guard in Busan to continue the probe, which is expected to focus on the circumstances surrounding the hijacking and its ensuing developments. Investigators said they will seek details on the crew's captivity, the pirates' demands for a ransom, their reaction during the raid, and also determine who fired at the captain.

They expressed confidence that they will be able to prove the charges against the pirates as they have already secured sufficient evidence, including testimonies by seven South Korean crew members who were aboard the ship, a video of the rescue operation and logs of the operation as well as the freighter's trajectory.

After completing their probe of the pirates, investigators plan to collect further information from the South Korean and Myanmarian crew members. The Samho Jewelry, which was carrying a total of eight South Koreans, two Indonesians and 11 crew members from Myanmar, is currently in waters off the coast of Oman, waiting to receive approval from the Omani government to enter a port in the country's capital, Muscat.

The wounded captain was transferred to the intensive care unit of Ajou University Hospital in Suwon, 46 kilometers south of Seoul, after undergoing surgery earlier in the day. Seok was immediately taken to the hospital after being flown in from Oman to a military airport south of Seoul on a special ambulance jet late Saturday night.

During the surgery that lasted more than three hours from 12:15 a.m., doctors removed infections from Seok's right side, seen as the main cause of septicemia, they said. The disease occurs when an infection in the body enters the bloodstream.

The captain sustained gunshot wounds in five areas, according to doctors at the hospital. His injuries included a ruptured liver and a ruptured large intestine as well as open fractures above the left wrist, in the left thigh and above the right knee.

Doctors said they treated the captain in all these areas, removing dead muscle and tissues and large amounts of pus. They also removed two bullets from his legs.

"The focus of today's treatment was to remove the symptoms of septicemia. We will make plans for additional surgeries after administering antibiotics to prevent further infections in the operated areas and observing his condition," said Yoo Hee-seok, head of Ajou University Hospital.

A hospital official later told reporters that doctors were not able to detect any progress in the patient's condition when they made their rounds at around 8 a.m.

"It usually takes 12 hours after an operation to determine its results, so (doctors) should be able to determine the patient's condition during their next round, which is scheduled for 3 to 4 p.m.," said No Hak-rae, who heads the hospital's public relations team.

Seok was shot several times by pirates during the commando raid and underwent two rounds of surgery in Oman to remove bullets and attach leg bones that had been fractured by the gunshots.

The bodies of the dead pirates, meanwhile, may be buried at sea if the Somalian government does not come up with an alternative at an early date, according to South Korean officials.

The Samho Jewelry's port entry is being delayed largely because the Omani government is reluctant to accept a vessel carrying the bodies of pirates, they say, and the crew members are being held back from returning home.

"We have informed the Somalian government that we will handle the bodies as we see fit if they do not give us their opinion within the day," said a South Korean foreign ministry official.

Officials are also discussing the matter with the Samho Jewelry's owners as the burial would have to be carried out from the freighter in neutral waters.


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