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[Op-Ed] Munmu the Great Deployed to Somalia

Posted March. 13, 2009 08:10,   


The KDX-II class destroyer Munmu the Great departed this morning for Somali waters from the Navy’s base in Jinhae, South Gyeongsang Province. The 4,500-ton vessel will have 300 crewmen from the Cheonghae Unit aboard under the leadership of Captain Jang Seong-woo. The unit is named after Cheonghaejin, a trading port in Wando, South Jeolla Province, that was built by Admiral Jang Bo-go of the ancient Shilla Dynasty. Munmu the Great was the 30th king of Shilla. He was buried in an undersea tomb in Gampo near the historical city of Gyeongju, according to his will to protect the country even posthumously. The unit will be stationed for six months in waters off eastern Somalia, where pirates have often emerged and attacked oceangoing vessels.

Munmu the Great is the first ship to be dispatched overseas by the Navy. This is also the first time for Korea to send troops overseas to protect its interests. Korean troops in the past were dispatched to Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, comprised primarily of units sent at the request of allies such as the United States. The Cheonghae Unit can also stage joint operations with foreign navies to protect vessels under a resolution on expanding military operations to sweep Somali pirates adopted by the U.N. Security Council in December last year. For this reason, the dispatch holds special significance, and is thus called “the joining of a new NATO” alliance.

Twenty-three naval vessels from 15 countries, including those from the United States, Russia, China, India, Britain, France, Italy and Spain, are operating in waters off Somalia. Japan will soon dispatch two convoy ships. Tokyo went so far as to drafting a bill on countermeasures against pirates that frees itself from a ban on combat activities stipulated by the Japanese constitution. China, which dispatched two 7,000 ton-class destroyers, one supply ship and 800 troops to Somali waters late last year, is apparently seeking to foster an “oceanic navy.” Beijing has even indicated its intent to build an aircraft carrier.

Somali waters are turning into a showcase of naval forces from major countries, but no hints have appeared that pirates will end their violent attacks any time soon. One reason cited is political upheaval in Somalia, but another is that piracy has become a lucrative business for Somalis. Pirates last year attacked civilian vessels more than 110 times and hijacked more than 40 ships. Countries and companies paid a combined 120 million U.S. dollars in ransom to free hostages. Munmu the Great must do its best to protect Korean vessels, while proactively cooperating with foreign naval forces.

Editorial Writer Yook Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)