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Cheonghae repels vessels in piracy attempt

A South Korean antipiracy unit operating off the coast of Somalia on Sunday morning repelled three ships suspected of trying to seize a Panamanian-registered chemical freight vessel, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday.

The Cheonghae Unit received an emergency satellite call from the 17,000-ton Azalea belonging to South Korea’s major shipping firm STX POS at around 1 a.m., JCS officials said.

The carrier ― loaded with 28,200 tons of sulfur and carrying four South Koreans, 18 Filipinos and two British people onboard ― was en route to Singapore from Egypt.

Upon receiving the call, the unit’s 4,500-ton destroyer Chungmugong Yi Sun-shin was immediately sent to the scene. It was escorting a Panamanian-registered vessel some 150 kilometers from the Azalea before the call, and handed the mission over to a Spanish warship.

The destroyer flew its Lynx helicopter to the scene at around 1:45 a.m. The helicopter arrived at the scene at 2:18 a.m. and fired three flares as a warning to the vessels, apparently run by Somali pirates.

All three disappeared from the destroyer’s radar display at around 2:50 a.m., officials said.

The chemical carrier met an Indian warship near a port in Djibouti at 5 a.m. and received its escort toward a safe zone, officials explained.

The seventh group of the Cheonghae Unit consisting of some 300 naval commandos and elite military personnel took over its mission from the previous group on May 6.

The Cheonghae Unit came into the limelight after its audacious mission to rescue South Korea’s 11,500-ton chemical freighter Samho Jewelry and its 21 crew members from Somali pirates early this year.

In April, the unit also helped secure the safety of the 20 crew members of a South Korean-owned container vessel, which was apparently attacked by Somali pirates.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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