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Engineer of freed S. Korean fishing ship dies in Kenya

One of the South Korean crew of a fishing boat recently released by Somali pirates apparently fell to his death from a hotel in Kenya, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

Kim Yong-hyun, the chief engineer of the freed vessel Keummi 305, was found dead around 8:25 a.m. Thursday, Korean time, after falling from his third-floor hotel room.

It is unclear whether he jumped as no suicide note has been found and there were no signs of a break-in, a ministry official said on condition of customary anonymity.

“No particular signs have been found about Kim so far,” the official said, adding that family members had said they “talked happily over the phone” after the dead crewman reached Kenya earlier this week.

“We have notified Kim’s family and will continue investigating the case with local police,” he said.

Kim’s body was found by a hotel security guard who ran to the scene after hearing a loud noise, the local police said.

Kim’s body has been moved to a local hospital.

The local police have also questioned a Kenyan who allegedly stayed with Kim in the hotel room. Securing witness accounts that there was a quarrel between them, the police also investigated the possibility of murder.

The 68-year-old Kim was among the two Koreans, two Chinese and 39 Kenyans released after four months of captivity by the Somali pirates. The 241-ton boat had reached Kenya’s Port Mombasa Tuesday, about a week after it was unconditionally freed on Feb. 9. South Korean officials dispatched in the African state had said all of the crew members were in relatively good health.

The dead shipman was trying to decide whether or not to return to his homeland after being asked by the ship’s captain to stay in Kenya to do more fishing. Kim had dined with the captain, Kim Dae-geun, before returning to his hotel room Thursday, according to ministry officials.

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. The ship was traveling near Kenya, carrying about 40 tons of king crab.

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