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Released Korean ship expected to reach Kenya today

A South Korean fishing vessel recently released by Somali pirates is expected to reach Kenya early Tuesday, as it heads back home after four months of captivity, the Foreign Ministry here said.

Seoul’s Keummi 305 is currently passing through international waters at an 8-knot average speed after receiving fuel over the weekend, a ministry official said.

The 241-ton boat is expected to arrive at Kenya’s Port Mombasa around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Korean time, the official added, asking not to be named as he was unauthorized to speak to the media on the issue.

Freed last week, the ship has been moving towards Kenya under the escort of a Finnish warship belonging to a fleet of the European Union.

All 43 crew members, including two South Koreans, two Chinese and dozens of Kenyans, are exhausted from prolonged captivity, but in relatively good health, the ministry said.

Seized in October, the Keummi 305 was released, reportedly without a ransom, weeks after another South Korean freighter vessel was freed from Somali pirates in a military rescue operation.

While Seoul’s Foreign Ministry announced the pirates unconditionally released the ship as they did not want to continue feeding the hostages amid slimming chances of receiving ransom, news reports have said about $50,000 was paid to them for petrol and food.

“We have not been informed of such a story,” the unnamed ministry official said, insisting that no money had been paid by the government or the ship’s reportedly bankrupted firm.

The Foreign Ministry said its officials will be questioning the crew members on the details of their release as soon as the ship arrives in Mombasa. Two Seoul officials were dispatched to Kenya for consultations last week.

Pirates who were captured during the rescue operation of the 11,500-ton chemical freighter Samho Jewelry last month confessed they had plotted the crime at least a fortnight before carrying it out, indicating that Korean ships were considered likely targets by hijackers.

Months before the hijacking of Samho Jewelry and Keummi 305, another freight vessel owned by Seoul’s Samho Shipping Co., was released after paying at least $9.5 million in ransom. Samho representatives admitted to having paid a large amount of money to ensure the safe return of its employees, but did not elaborate on the exact amount.

Some critics said the hijacking case left a bad precedent for foreign countries as well as Korea by accepting the pirates’ high ransom demand. The South Korean government does not take direct part in negotiating with pirates, keeping to the international principle not to bargain over a hijacked vessel.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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