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ROK Navy to rescue of DPRK cargo ship

A REPUBLIC of Korea Navy destroyer chased Somali pirates from a Democratic People's Republic of Korea cargo ship off the African coast in the country's first such operation abroad, officials in Seoul said yesterday.

The ROK destroyer has been escorting cargo vessels since April off piracy-prone Somalia on a key shipping route for ROK container vessels and oil tankers.

The suspected pirates were as close as 3 kilometers to the DPRK vessel when a navy helicopter arrived at the scene, an official with the Joint Chief of Staff's office said.

"Three kilometers is pretty close when you're talking about the ocean," he said.

ROK Navy sharpshooters were on board the helicopter flying from the destroyer after it picked up distress signals from the DPRK vessel and chased off the pirates, another official said. They did not elaborate on the nature of the DPRK cargo or where the vessel was headed.

A transcript of the radio communication showed the destroyer aided the DPRK vessel by providing coordinates for its passage out of the area after the pirates had fled, and offered to escort it to safety.

"This is the Republic of Korea Navy. We will be securing safety for your vessel," a sailor said. A DPRK crew member responded: "Thank you. We request that you continue to watch over us."

The incident took place 37 kilometers south of the Yemeni port of Aden, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Somalia and Yemen are separated by the Gulf of Aden.

Also yesterday, Iran's embassy in Moscow said a Russian warship has freed eight Iranians who were seized along with suspected Somali pirates last week.

The Russian destroyer Admiral Panteleyev captured a vessel with 29 suspected Somali pirates last week. The embassy says the Iranians had been held captive by the pirates for almost three months.


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