Cheonghae Unit

Write: 2009-04-21

Korea’s Cheonghae naval unit has successfully defended a commercial vessel from Somali pirates just one day after it began the mission to protect Korean vessels in the waters off Somalia.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff announced that last Friday (Korea standard time) a Lynx helicopter from ROKS Munmu the Great of Cheonghae Unit thwarted pirate attack on a Danish merchant vessel 300 kilometers east of the Port of Aden and rescued the ship from Somali pirates.

Cheonhae Unit

Cheonghae Unit is a Korean naval unit deployed to Somali waters to escort Korean vessels. The naval contingent left Korea on March 13 and arrived at the destination on April 14. Korea’s first warship to be deployed for an international mission, the unit was put into operation near the Gulf of Aden on April 16. The presence of Cheonghae Unit in the troubled region in Africa implies that Korea has taken the first step toward becoming a naval superpower. The unit includes a cutting-edge 4,500-ton grade destroyer ROKS Munmu the Great, a rigid inflatable boat (RIB), and a Lynx anti-submarine helicopter. It’s manned by 300-member staff composed of, among others, the crew of Munmu the Great, naval pilots, and an inspection team made up of thirty navy SEALs. The unit is capable of safeguarding as many as six vessels at one time.

Somali Pirates

Somali pirates are known to kidnap vessels at a thoroughfare linking the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean and ask for huge ransoms. Somalia’s extended coastline offers easy hiding places to pirates. It is easy to recruit pirates in the region, because piracy is considered a lucrative career choice for jobless Somali youths. It’s also emerging as a profitable business venture, for investors make investments to support pirates in return for a large share of the ransoms. Piracy in Somalia is a booming industry, backed by tightly knit network of support and left unsupervised for a long period of time in the absence of a functioning government. As more vessels fall victim to pirate attacks in recent years, the United Nations issued a resolution to call naval forces around the world to protect seafaring vessels and wipe out pirates. Korea’s Cheonghae Unit is working together with the Combined Force Maritime Component Commander (CFMCC) led by the 5th U.S. naval fleet. Roughly 500 Korean-registered vessels pass through the Gulf of Aden per year and about 150 to 160 ships are estimated to be vulnerable to pirate attacks. To date, three Korean ships have been abducted and released by Somali pirates.

First Mission

Cheonghae Unit has made an impressive start as soon as it was put into operation. On April 16 it had safely escorted the Pine Galaxy, a 12,000-ton Korean merchant vessel heading to Belgium from Saudi Arabia, and then on the following day warded off pirates about to hijack a Danish vessel. According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff official, the Munmu the Great destroyer received a distress call from the 2,100-ton Puma, registered to Denmark, at 2:25 Friday afternoon on Korean standard time. The crew notified the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the incident before sending a Lynx helicopter with two snipers. When the chopper arrived at the troubled site 17 minutes after takeoff, the pirates were about to climb aboard the ship. But they soon fled as the snipers got ready to fire warning shots. Together with an American helicopter that later joined the rescue mission, Korea’s Lynx chopper kept chasing the pirate ship until it was far enough from the Danish vessel.

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