Five suspected Somali pirates who were captured during a mission to rescue a hijacked ship were brought to South Korea on Sunday and arrested on criminal charges, officials said.
The suspects, seized on January 21 during a South Korean naval raid on the freighter Samho Jewelry, arrived on a special flight and were sent to the southern port city of Busan, a Korea Coast Guard office spokesman said.
In a case likely to be closely watched by other countries tackling piracy, South Korean maritime police have formed a special team of 50 officials to deal with the country's first legal attempt to punish foreign pirates.
|Photo released by the South Korean Navy shows the storming of a ship by South Korean commandos which had been hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean.|
The five were officially arrested for suspected maritime robbery, attempted murder as well as ship hijacking, the spokesman told AFP.
"We will carry out investigations for 10 days to collect all necessary evidence from the suspects, currently being detained in Busan," he said.
Piracy has surged in recent years off Somalia, a lawless, war-torn country that sits astride one of the world's most important shipping routes, leading to the Suez Canal.
International warships patrol the area trying to clamp down on the problem, but most pirates caught at sea are freed almost straight away because there is nowhere to try them.
The captain of the Samho Jewelry, a 15,500-tonne chemical freighter hijacked on January 15, is in critical condition after being shot three times by pirates during the rescue mission.
Seok Hae-Kyun, 58, underwent two rounds of surgery at a hospital in Oman and was flown home Saturday before another operation on Sunday to remove remaining bullets and treat gunshot wounds.
Eight pirates were killed during the raid, while all 21 crew were rescued -- eight South Koreans, two Indonesians and 11 from Myanmar.
"The investigations will take place in Busan since the hijacking took place in international waters and both the hijacked ship and the wounded captain were based in this city," Kim Chung-Kyu, the coastguard's Busan office chief, told reporters.
The suspects were questioned by prosecutors in the presence of state-appointed lawyers, a lengthy process that involved translations between Somali, English and Korean, Yonhap news agency said.
The suspects, known to be aged 19 or in their 20s, denied the charges, saying they only acted on the orders of their boss and did not shoot the captain, Yonhap said, citing their lawyers.
Under South Korean law the pirates face a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted of shooting the Samho Jewelry's captain. They could face death sentences if he were to die.