By Moon Gwang-lip [email@example.com]
The Samho Jewelry, the Korean chemical freighter rescued from a group of Somali pirates, arrived at the port of Muscat, Oman, yesterday, according to Seoul officials.
The seven remaining Korean sailors aboard the ship will take a flight home today from the Omani capital. The wounded captain, Seok Hae-gyun, was airlifted to Korea for emergency treatment on Saturday.
The hijacked ship’s entry into Oman, carrying the corpses of eight Somali pirates killed during the rescue, was delayed for several days because of the Omani government’s refusal to allow it in. Oman gave the green light on Sunday, hours after the Somali government said it would recover the corpses of the pirates in Muscat.
“The maritime police of the Omani government didn’t know what to do because it is such an unprecedented case, so it spent several days coordinating government action,” said a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade official, denying suspicions that Oman had been reluctant to let the Samho Jewelry in because of diplomatic sensitivities over the handling of the pirates’ bodies.
The official said the Samho Jewelry reached the port of Muscat at 11:30 a.m. local time (4:30 p.m. Korea time) and docked in the main port around two hours after customs clearance.
The Choi Young, the Naval destroyer that rescued the 11,500-ton Samho Jewelry from the pirates in the Arabian Sea 10 days ago and escorted it afterward, entered the port with the ship, the official said.
The Jan. 21 rescue operation ended a weeklong hijacking of the ship, which had a 21-member crew including eight Koreans. Eight pirates were killed and five captured alive. The captain of the ship, Seok Hae-gyun, who was shot in the stomach during the rescue operation, was sent to Korea on Saturday for a medical operation.
Upon arriving in Muscat, the 20 remaining sailors of the Samho Jewelry received medical checkups from Omani doctors and appeared to be in normal condition, the official said.
The seven Koreans will board an airplane at 11 a.m. today and fly via Hong Kong to Busan’s Gimhae International Airport tonight or tomorrow morning, the official said. Samho Shipping, the operator of the Samho Jewelry, is headquartered in the southern port city.
The non-Korean crew of the Samho Jewelry, including 11 Burmese and two Indonesians, will decide whether to return to their home countries, the Seoul official said.
“[The non-Korean crew] appear to be hoping to stay and continue on the journey,” the official said. The Samho Jewelry was bound for Sri Lanka when it was hijacked.
Five Samho sailors on standby in Oman will replace the Korean sailors being sent home and take over the Samho Jewelry for the rest of its journey, according to Samho Shipping. The ship will get to Dubai on Thursday for thorough repairs, it said.
Seoul is waiting for approval from Oman’s government to hand over the deceased pirates’ bodies. Once approved, the government will contract an Omani hospital to embalm the bodies, seal them in coffins and send them by cargo plane to Somalia.