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[Editorial] U.N. on piracy

It may just be a coincidence that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was in Oman last week while the South Korean Navy’s Cheonghae Unit rescued all 21 crewmembers of the cargo ship Samho Jewelry from Somali pirates. Some here speculate that Ban’s meeting with Omani King Qaboos bin Said Al Said may have been conducive to Oman’s support for the operation.

Among his many duties as the chief executive of the world body, anti-piracy efforts occupied much of Secretary General Ban’s concerns as abductions of merchant vessels by Somali bandits have grown in frequency and affected a wider area since he took office in 2007. The latest U.N. actions included the Security Council’s adoption of the Russian-proposed anti-piracy resolution in April last year and naming of former French minister Jack Lang as the U.N. special advisor on piracy.

Yet, there is much more that the United Nations should do to eliminate the persisting piracy in the Indian Ocean off the coast of east Africa and the Arabian Gulf that puts commercial navigation into perils and raises the costs of shipping. Major trading countries, which also happen to be leading military powers, have dispatched naval elements to the piracy-infested zone to protect their ocean liners but the number of hijackings continued to increase.

At present, about 50 warships from 27 countries with a total strength of 10,000 personnel, excluding the U.S. 5th Fleet forces, are patrolling the vast area off the Horn of Africa. They are assigned to the NATO’s Ocean Shield mission, the EU’s Atlanta mission or the U.S.-led Combined Task Force 151, or operating independently while coordinating with the above missions.

This anti-piracy system in the Indian Ocean has yet to prove its effectiveness in fighting what the U.N. chief called “the scourge of the 21st century.” The Somali pirates, numbering about 1,000, captured a record 1,016 hostages last year and are currently holding 32 ships and 746 crewmembers, including the Korean-owned Geummi 305 with two Korean and 41 foreign seamen.

The world is now convinced that Somalian piracy is not a temporary phenomenon caused by near anarchy in the African country. The global community can terminate it by making concerted efforts with increased contributions from individual states, hopefully under the leadership of the United Nations. Secretary General Ban has this important mission to distinguish the final year in his five-year term.

Here, serious debates are under way on how to cope with future threats of piracy in the waters where one out of every five merchant vessels are owned or operated by Koreans. While civilian experts call for the dispatch of another Korean warship to the Indian Ocean, military authorities have reservations about dividing the limited combat capabilities of the South Korean Navy.

Assigning a second destroyer to the Indian Ocean would mean taking one away from the fleets defending the East, West and South Seas of the Korean Peninsula. Strategic consideration has to be made for effective distribution of available military resources between the two equally important missions of coastal defense and protecting the sea line of communication for our numerous freighters and crude carriers.

As the seventh-largest trading country in the world, with the two-way trading volume expected to exceed $1 trillion this year, unreserved efforts should be made to provide maritime security. Still there is a limit to Korea’s capability of directly protecting its merchant ships in faraway seas and the same is true of other countries. The ultimate solution is creating a powerful multinational force under the U.N. flag.
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