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(Yonhap Feature) Navy's anti-piracy unit in Somalia coast marks 5 years since major rescue operation

All News 17:11 January 20, 2016

By Park Bo-ram

SEOUL, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- Worries about success and fears of wounds tormented Navy SEAL Park Sang-joon before the operation began and seized his focus, the soldier said of the Navy's much-celebrated mission to rescue a South Korean freighter hijacked by Somali pirates five years ago.

Park was among some 300 special troops who, aboard Navy destroyer Choi Young, on Jan. 21, 2011 rescued the 11,500-ton South Korean freighter Samho Jewelry that had been taken hostage along with its 21 crewmen by Somali pirates.

Carrying chemicals, the Samho Jewelry was en route to Sri Lanka from the United Arab Emirates when it was hijacked in the Arabian Sea earlier in the month. The crew included eight South Koreans and foreign sailors from Indonesia and Myanmar.

Since then, the "Dawn of the Gulf of Aden" mission has been the most well-known feat of the anti-piracy Cheonghae Unit, which South Korea stationed in the Gulf of Aden in the Arabian Sea off Somalia, a hub of pirate activity since 2009.

Of the troops that took part in the original rescue mission, three Navy SEALs returned to the Gulf of Aden last year to serve another term with the anti-piracy unit, according to the Navy.

Park, a chief petty officer, and Senior Chief Petty Officer Kim Jong-wook were among the select group of forces who stepped onto the freighter and engaged in a brief gun battle before taking control of the commercial vessel.

In the operation, several Somali pirates were killed or went missing and five others were taken alive to face criminal charges in South Korea.

"I was very nervous, thinking if we could complete the mission without human damage. But as the operation kicked off, such worries disappeared," Park said in his recollection of the mission in an interview provided by the Navy.

"I had trust in my colleagues beside me who entered the Samho Jewelry together and the Lynx helicopters and the destroyer Choi Young that covered us."

The other SEAL, Chief Petty Officer Kang Joon, was a sniper who sustained a minor gunshot wound in a brief encounter three days before the main operation.

"I was thrilled upon hearing in a hospital that the mission was successful," Kang said.

Since the successful mission, the anti-piracy unit has upgraded its operation capabilities through the introduction of an automatic elevator which can help forces penetrate hijacked ships more easily and new weapons and bulletproof gear, the Navy said.

Including the famous mission, the anti-piracy unit has successfully carried out a total of 21 rescue missions since its first deployment in 2009, in which 31 South Korean and foreign vessels were freed from pirates seeking ransom.

The Cheonghae Unit's rotating destroyer was also mobilized when South Korea evacuated South Korean and foreign nationals from Libya in 2011 and 2014.

During its seven-year service, the unit has also escorted some 14,130 South Korea and foreign vessels safely through the piracy-prone region, according to the Navy.

The dispatched unit gained further fame when Chey Min-jung, a daughter of No. 3 conglomerate SK Group's Chairman Chey Tae-won, joined the mission last year as a naval officer. The junior Chey returned to South Korea in December after a six-month mission there.

The Navy will hold a ceremony to mark the 5th anniversary of the Dawn of Gulf of Aden mission on Thursday at a naval base in Busan with the special forces who participated in it and the captain of the seized freighter.


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