Somali pirates could face South Korea charges

The suspects were seized during a South Korean Navy raid on hijacked ship.

Seoul: Five suspected Somali pirates captured after a mission to rescue a hijacked ship have been brought to South Korea to face possible criminal charges, officials said on Sunday.

The suspects, seized on January 21 during a South Korean navy raid on the Samho Jewelry, arrived in Seoul on a special flight before being sent to the southern port city of Busan, a Korea Coast Guard office spokesman said.

"They are here, and the prosecutors` office is reviewing the case with possible charges of maritime robbery and attempted murder as well as ship hijacking," the spokesman said.

The captain of the Samho Jewelry, the 15,500-tonne chemical freighter hijacked on January 15, is in a critical condition after being shot three times by pirates during the navy`s rescue mission.

Seok Hae-Kyun, 58, underwent two rounds of surgery at a hospital in Oman and was flown home on Saturday for further treatment.

Eight pirates were killed during the raid, which rescued all 21 crew members -- eight South Koreans, two Indonesians and 11 from Myanmar.

The spokesman said the maritime police have formed a special team of 50 officials to investigate the case once the official arrest warrant is issued.

"The investigations will take place in Busan since the hijacking took place in international waters and both the hijacked ship and the wounded captain were based in this city," Kim Chung-Kyu, the coastguard`s Busan office chief, told reporters.

The suspects were questioned by prosecutors in the presence of state-appointed lawyers, with lengthy translation involving Somali, English and Korean delaying the process, Yonhap news agency said.

The five suspects, known to be aged 19 or in their 20s, denied the charges and said they only acted as ordered by their boss and did not shoot the captain, Yonhap said, citing their lawyers.

Piracy has surged in recent years off Somalia, a lawless, war-torn country that sits astride one of the world`s most important shipping routes, leading to the Suez Canal.

Dozens of ships have been hijacked and held for ransom. Since 2006, three South Korean vessels have been seized and released after ransoms were paid.

Bureau Report