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[Opinion] Deploying a Naval Vessel Near Somalia

Posted October. 16, 2008 04:54,   


The slogans of the Korean Navy are filled with vigor. Aiming to sail throughout the world, sailors shout “Go to the blue ocean!” just as Air Force cadets shout “Go to space!” With Asia’s largest 18,000-ton landing ship and the 7,000-ton Aegis-class destroyer, the Navy is now a blue-water navy. The government will send a fact-finding mission to Somalia to review dispatching a naval warship to the African nation. If the deployment is approved, the dream of Korean naval forces to sail beyond their territorial waters will come true.

Chief of Naval Operations Jung Ok-keun told the National Assembly that if the dispatch is approved, a Yi Sun-shin-class destroyer will be deployed along with helicopters for sea operations and anti-terrorism units. There is ample reason to send a naval vessel to Somalia. The Korean bulk carrier Bright Ruby was hijacked along with eight Korean crew members last month. Last year, the crew of the Korean-owned trawlers Mavuno 1 and 2 were set free after 174 days in captivity by Somali pirates in return for a hefty ransom. Thus the release of the kidnapped sailors this time will not be easy. More than 500 Korean ships pass through Somali waters every year, so a Korean naval vessel in the area will help guarantee the safe transportation of goods.

In Somali waters, the Combating the Financing of Terrorism, consisting of naval forces from 20 countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Australia, seeks to protect commercial vessels from terrorists and pirates. This year alone, the French navy launched military operations against pirates and rescued 32 French hostages. It is a shame for the robust Korean Navy to seek help from the anti-terrorism group whenever hijackings happen. Aside from safeguarding Korean nationals, a Korean naval warship in Somali waters will contribute to protecting global peace and free trade.

If success is guaranteed, the dispatch will be more than a timely decision. But risk remains everywhere. Somalia’s 3,700-kilometer coastline is infested with pirates familiar with the conditions, making it extremely difficult for one naval vessel to overwhelm them. In addition, Somali pirates are armed with torpedoes and Exocet missiles. As with France, Korea needs to conduct simultaneous land, sea and air operations and persuade African countries to join the fight against piracy. More importantly, the fact-finding mission should get an accurate hold of the situation in waters off the lawless African nation.

Editorial Writer Bhang Hyeong-nam, (hnbhang@donga.com)