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South Korea Prepares Destroyer to Fight Somali Piracy  བོད་སྐད།

  • Kurt Achin

South Korea is getting ready to join other nations in sending military force to waters off Somalia, to combat the threat of piracy in a major shipping lane. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

In a ceremony at its port city, Busan, South Korea formally commissioned its naval unit tasked with protecting ships from Somali pirates. The 45-hundred ton destroyer named "Munmu the Great," after an ancient Korean warrior, is expected to head to the Gulf of Aden, off Somalia's coast, later this month.

Commander Jang Seong-woo says his sailors are ready for action.

He says the Cheonghae Unit is fully prepared to cooperate with other countries to protect people and ships.

South Korea's export-dependent economy is heavily dependent on international shipping. The South Korean government says about 500 South Korean ships pass through the Gulf of Aden, each year.

Somalia's extreme poverty and lack of of a strong central government have fueled a sharp rise in piracy in its coastal waters. More than 100 pirate-related incidents were reported in the gulf, last year alone . By some estimates, Somali pirates extorted about $150-million in ransom, last year.

South Korea has encountered Somali piracy, first hand. Last month, five South Korean commercial sailors were freed after being kidnapped nearly three months earlier.

Hong Jeong-geun is one of about 300 South Korean navy personnel serving in the Cheonghae unit.

He makes a public promise to his father and mother to return soon, after putting some real fear into the pirates.

South Korean military officers say, although the unit's main mission is to protect South Korean ships, it will not hesitate to come to the aid of vessels from other countries.

China and India have also dispatched naval forces to the Gulf of Aden, joining those from the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and several NATO nations. Defense officials in Japan say Tokyo also plans to follow suit.