The Seoul government is consulting with several countries adjacent to Somalia over how to deal with the five pirates captured during the successful rescue operation Friday, a government source said Sunday.
It is currently seeking cooperation from Kenya, Yemen and Oman. However, they remain reluctant to accept the pirates, citing the costs of and lack of facilities for handling them, according to the source.
"We are currently consulting with nearby friendly countries over ways to deal with them. Based on the result of the consultations, we will think about whether to bring them to South Korea," said the source, requesting anonymity.
"Until now, the countries have expressed negative positions, citing various reasons. Given the gravity of the issue, our stance is that we will deal with it in a direction that would ensure a strong criminal punishment to them."
Kenya, in particular, announced last year that it would not accept any more Somali pirates due to the lack of facilities for them.
Should it decide to bring the pirates here, the government will prosecute them based on the U.N. maritime regulations and other criminal codes, officials said.
But critics pointed out that a considerable amount of money and time will be spent to transport to house the pirates here and offer them interpretation throughout the trial process, a reason why an increasing number of countries have opted to send them back to Somalia after disarming them.
As for the eight pirates shot dead during the operation, Seoul is considering sending their bodies back to their home country "from a humanitarian standpoint," officials said.
During the unprecedented operation in the Indian Ocean, South Korean commandos rescued all of the 21 crew members of the Samho Jewelry freighter, which was seized by Somali pirates on Jan. 15 in the Arabian Sea.
The 11,500-ton chemical freighter ? currently traveling at around 13 kilometers per hour ? is heading toward a port in the Omani capital of Muscat and expected to arrive there on Thursday, military officials said.
It is being escorted by the 4,500-ton destroyer Choi Young of South Korea's Cheonghae Unit, which conducted the five-hour military operation Friday.
The five pirates captured alive are being kept in an isolated room of the destroyer while the bodies of the eight deceased pirates are being kept in a refrigerator, officials said.
"Troops on the destroyer are keeping a close watch on the five pirates. The bodies of the deceased pirates in the fridge will be transported to the port in Muscat," a military official said on condition of anonymity. "Crew members are gradually recovering from their mental distress."
Several special warfare troops are aboard the freighter to stand guard in preparation of emergency situations, according to officials.
The anti-piracy unit initially planned to escort the freighter to a port in Salalah in Oman as it is nearer from where the rescue operation occurred.
But they have changed the destination as the Salalah port is saturated and the capital city would provide better conditions for medical checkups for crew members and the examination of the ship.
During the rescue operation, Seok Hae-gyun, a 57-year-old captain of the ship, suffered abdominal gunshot wounds, but was not in critical condition. He is now being treated in a hospital in Oman after a four-hour surgical procedure.
Following Friday's operation, experts have raised questions over whether the Cheonghae Unit is sufficiently equipped to effectively conduct anti-piracy operations in the vast Indian Ocean.
The unit, which was deployed in March 2009 to join an international anti-piracy campaign in the Gulf of Aden off the Somali coast, currently has only one destroyer carrying one Lynx antisubmarine helicopter and three speed boats.
Although the rescue operation was successful, experts pointed out that there need to be at least two destroyers to effectively carry out an anti-piracy operation with sufficient logistical support from one of the two, particularly when the operation gets prolonged.
Many countries, whose forces are deployed in anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden, such as Japan, China and Russia, have at least two destroyers.
"For a destroyer engaging in a maritime operation for a lengthy period, its body needs to be checked sometime during the operation and also receive military supplies. So, the number of vessels deployed is always even, not odd," a military official said.
The South Korean Navy currently has six 4,500-ton destroyers including the Choi Young.
One of the destroyers is being repaired after its mission in the Gulf of Aden and another is preparing to be deployed to replace the Choi Young. So, only three destroyers are operating to protect the South Korean territory including areas near the inter-Korean sea border.
Military experts say that to dispatch another destroyer for the anti-piracy mission overseas, the military needs to advance the date for the deployment of 2,300-ton frigates ? scheduled for 2014 ? and secure more 1,200-ton corvettes for domestic operations.
During an interview with the press Saturday, Capt. Cho Young-joo, head of the destroyer Choi Young, said that the pirates did not expect the military operation to be staged at the time due to repeated "deceptive operations."
"Three days before the rescue operation, we repeatedly conducted 'deceptive operations.' When we began the rescue operation, the pirates were confused by the unexpected situation and did not threaten to kill crewmembers," he said.
"The first and foremost thing during the operation was to ensure the safety of the crewmembers. Had the pirates noticed that we would conduct the military operation, they could have threatened to kill the crew."
During the "deceptive operations," the destroyer, a Lynx helicopter and speedboats approached the Samho Jewelry and then retreated. They repeated the approaching and retreating many times to deceive the pirates, he said.
Cho also said that the successful operation is the result of their strong readiness posture.
"All members of the Choi Young conducted the operation with the trust from South Korean citizens and our aspirations for the successful completion of the mission. The good result came as we were always trying hard to maintain our strong preparedness," he said.
-- The Korea Herald/Asia News Network