Image: A Somali pirate
Jo Jung-ho  /  AP
A Somali pirate, hooded, arrives at South Regional Headquarters Korea Coast Guard in Busan, South Korea, on Sunday.
updated 1/30/2011 11:28:04 AM ET 2011-01-30T16:28:04

Five Somali pirates captured during a raid on a hijacked cargo ship in the Arabian Sea were brought Sunday to South Korea, where they could face life imprisonment, the coast guard said.

The men were arrested as South Korean commandos raided the South Korean-operated Samho Jewelry earlier this month, a week after pirates seized the freighter and its 21 crew members. The commandos rescued all crew members — eight South Koreans, two Indonesians and 11 Myanmar citizens — and killed eight Somali pirates.

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None of the crew members was injured except for the South Korean captain, who was shot in the stomach by a pirate. The captain, Seok Hae-gyun, was brought to South Korea on Saturday night and had surgery for his wounds.

On Sunday, the five suspected pirates arrived at Gimhae airport in southeastern South Korea and were placed in detention there.

Coast guard investigators began questioning the Somalis on charges they hijacked the ship, requested a ransom and attempted to kill the captain, coast guard officer Hahm Un-sik said. Under South Korean law, the Somalis could be sentenced to up to life in prison if convicted, Hahm said.

The suspects told investigators that the eight dead pirates played a key role in the hijacking and shot the captain, according to Yonhap news agency. The coast guard couldn't immediately confirm the report but said it will quiz the suspects for 10 days before handing them over to South Korean prosecutors for an indictment.

Piracy off the coast of Somalia — which includes one of the world's busiest shipping lanes — has flourished since the Horn of Africa nation's government collapsed in 1991.

The United States, Germany and the Netherlands have tried other Somali pirate suspects, but efforts to involve Africa in trying piracy cases are faltering and captured pirates frequently are released. In November, a judge in Kenya said that country did not have jurisdiction for attacks outside its waters.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon urged African leaders and the world on Sunday to do more to combat the growing threat of piracy.

"My special adviser on piracy has presented me with ways to end impunity and we will confer with African and other partners, including the Security Council, on how those may be implemented," he told an African Union summit in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.

Ban's adviser, Jack Lang, told the U.N. Security Council last week that the world should set up a new court system and larger prisons to combat piracy.

Lang proposed spending $25 million and providing jobs for young men in Somalia.

South Korea's coast guard says a trial in South Korea for the suspects has no legal hurdles. A U.N. convention says every country has the right to arrest pirates in international waters, and South Korea's criminal code stipulates that local authorities can punish foreigners who commit crimes against South Koreans even outside its territory, coast guard officer Eum Jin-kyung said.

The names of the suspects weren't immediately available. They wore hooded black winter jackets and their hands were tied with knotted ropes as they entered a coast guard office for investigation under heavy security, a video broadcast by YTN television showed.

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The Samho Jewelry and the freed crew members headed to Oman following their release. Oman, however, has reportedly delayed their port entry because of the dead bodies of the pirates on board. Yonhap, citing an unidentified Seoul official, reported Sunday that South Korea is considering burying the bodies at sea to quicken the port entry.

Part of the investigation will focus on finding if the pirates belong to a group involved in previous hijackings of South Korean ships, senior coast guard officer Kim Chung-gyu told a news conference.

In October, Somali pirates hijacked a South Korean-operated fishing boat with 43 sailors — two South Korean, two Chinese and 39 Kenyans — who have not been released. A month later, a supertanker also owned by Samho Shipping and its 24 crew were freed after seven months amid reports that a record ransom of up to $9.5 million had been paid to Somali pirates.

The South Korean raid occurred on the same day that Malaysia's navy successfully freed a chemical tanker and its 23 crew members from Somali pirates and apprehended seven pirates.


Associated Press writer Samson Haileyesus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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